Economic Development News

Chamber Board authorizes workforce action team
Published: Friday, June 10, 2016
By: Randy Allen


"From available data, it appears that of the 2016 graduates from county high schools, approximately 25% plan to go directly into the workforce in lieu of the military or higher education opportunities."

Crisis in the Making

There is a crisis at hand in Central Missouri. A lack of qualified workers is beginning to slow economic growth. The unemployment rates in Cole County and surrounding counties are at historic lows in the 3% range. So why is that a crisis? The good news is our economy is healthy and is providing jobs for most of our available workforce. The bad news is the pool of available and qualified workers to fill the openings in manufacturing, retail, service and other businesses is inhibiting growth.

As Shaun Sappenfield, Chamber Existing Business Manager, pointed out in his December 2015 article, “declining unemployment has presented new challenges that directly or indirectly affect us all.”

Our local employers are telling us that they cannot fill many open jobs. The available workforce prepared to fill those new jobs in our region is not growing and in fact is shrinking. So what can we do? First, there is a continuing basic demographics shift. As we all know, the baby boom generation is moving into retirement age and is leaving the workforce.  The labor participation rate is the lowest it has been in nearly 40 years. This trend will continue. Finally, it appears there are a considerable number of young people not continuing on to other educational opportunities and more troubling, may not be ready for the jobs that are available. From current available data, it appears that of the 2016 graduates from county high schools, approximately 25% plan to go directly into the workforce in lieu of the military or higher education opportunities. We must provide a better path for those workers who could fill those unmet needs in semi-skilled or skilled employment with local companies.

Chamber Spring Retreat

Workforce availability and readiness was the topic in our recent Chamber board retreat. At that retreat numerous ideas were discussed with regard to what the Chamber can do to facilitate the improvement of skills and workforce availability. In a companion article in this edition of Chamber Today, Missy Bonnot, Director of Economic Development, highlights the panel discussion at the retreat and discusses the Labor study which has been commissioned. The Labor Study should provide us with the first nugget of information we need to further assess the underlying landscape of the workforce gaps.

The Board of Directors followed up on those discussions at our May Board meeting and approved a new initiative with following language in our 2016 Economic Development Work Plan.

Workforce Action Team

This Action Team will have 10 members consisting of workforce development professionals and a subset of the current Chamber Human Resource Committee.

The Action Team will focus on these four areas:

  • Develop a Cole County Education Council with representatives from the Cole County high schools to provide information on graduate and non-graduate placement into the workforce (and other supporting information).
  • Develop an electronic Job Posting Database accessible through the Chamber website.
  • Develop a Jefferson City area employment recruiting program marketed to regional high school graduates.
  • Develop strategies for successful high school graduate transition to local workforce.

The Action Team can break into subcommittees and add additional members based on expertise.

The Board believes that this Action Team and these initiatives, along with the Labor Study will assist us in assessing the situation and offer some ideas for improvements. At the top of the list is enhancing the connection between the high schools and employers to match the career readiness curriculum with the actual workforce needs.

There is an often-confusing mix of definitions, frameworks, policies and implementation strategies for career readiness. Some viewpoints center around learning skills for a specific entry-level job, while others define career readiness as a broader understanding of workplace skills. Still other definitions focus on knowledge and skills for a particular industry sector such as health sciences, manufacturing or information technology. Career readiness is a convergence of all of these definitions. Career readiness involves three major skill areas:

  • Core academic skills and the ability to apply those skills to concrete situations in order to function in the workplace and in routine daily activities;
  • Em­ployability skills (such as critical thinking and responsibility) that are essential in any career area; and technical,
  • Job-specific skills related to a specific career pathway. These skills have been emphasized across numerous pieces of research and allow students to enter true career pathways that offer family-sustaining wages and opportunities for advancement.

Regardless of a student’s path, it takes all three of these broad skill sets for students to be ready for a career. 21st century high schools should focus on providing all students a strong foundation across all three areas so they are prepared for whatever their lives may bring.

Our local employers are begging us to assist in improving this path so more of the students not attending post-secondary education can more quickly and effectively take their jobs. Although the Action Team will not be able to immediately affect substantial improvements, we hope it will provide a catalyst for our county educational institutions and regional employers to work more closely so long term progress will be made.

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