Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Tackling Workforce Issues, Together

 “Why would you want to do that?”  The question still lingers nearly 25 years later in my mind.  An Eastern Ohio restaurant owner uttered this statement to a business prospect looking to locate less than a mile away with 300 new jobs.  The guy didn’t kill the deal, but his remarks certainly didn’t help.

I have long subscribed to the concept that everyone has a role in economic development.  It’s not just elected officials and development administrators, but all of us who have a role in attracting and retaining jobs. 

As the nation collectively experiences a workforce challenge, the pivotal issue right now is the ability for a local community to prove it can find workers. Expansions by our existing companies and new investments to the area hang in the balance.  It’s in tackling workforce issues where future-changing investments will be won or lost.

Part of the workforce issue is a demographic one.  Retirements are outpacing new additions to the labor force. Ohio has watched the number of Ohioans who turn 65 grow from 19 per day in 2010 to five times that in recent years. 

Even though we may not realize it or believe it, Licking County employers enjoy a demographic advantage.  According to Ohio unemployment statistics, there are more people in our county labor force in April 2021 than there were in April 2019.  Few can say that.

I’m thinking about the roles for all of us to take, together, in our community in tackling workforce issues.

Nagging Parent: Chief among the reasons to be seeking a better job is that companies are hiring.  Parents, family, and friends of potential job seekers have a major role to play.  Manufacturing careers are among the highest-paying and, as the pandemic shows, the most stable and essential.  Manufacturers are hiring.  Don’t be shy.  Share the news.  Go ahead.  Nag.

Upskilling Encourager:  At a time like now where job seekers have a decided advantage across from the interview table, there is no better time to encourage our family members and friends to up their skills.  Industrial maintenance is a big one to consider.

Credential Seeker:  Companies in Licking County are offering their existing employees a chance to gain credentials through Ohio’s TechCred program, for example.  C-TEC soon offers another round of pre-employment manufacturing certifications with scholarships available to those who seek it out early.

Industry has the biggest roles.

Intentional Partner:  Industry in Licking County needs to join forces to make their workforce demands intentional and known.  Partner with OhioMeansJobs Licking County to conduct targeted job fairs and then promise to hire from those who turn out.  C-TEC can attract more to its credentialing programs if those students know successful credentialing translates to a clear chance at a better job.

Retention Focuser:  A recent Chamber of Commerce gathering of manufacturers was right on with a concept that hit close to home.  One company shared, while others nodded in agreement, that the focus needs to be on retaining existing employees.   It is time to reexamine payroll and human resources policies that aren’t competitive.

No economy churns like this forever.  The pent-up demand from the pandemic will run its course, in time.  Let’s not wait for a recession to solve these workforce issues.

There’s a lot of chatter about workforce issues right now.  Let’s tackle them with action.  Together.


This development column is a monthly column in The Advocate.

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