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Are You Selling Out Your Workforce?

20 Feb

Throughout the realm of economic development, it always makes a good media headline to announce a new company is coming to town and will employ hundreds of workers.  It generates excitement in the community, creates a buzz around the region and includes plenty of ‘slaps on the back’ for local officials.  But did you know that sometimes…those very announcements may be what’s keeping your community from advancing and competing in the global marketplace?  It’s ironic, to say the least, but let me explain.

In today’s world, your local workforce is your most valuable asset when trying to attract businesses and industries to your region.  Therefore, you need to protect and grow that asset – just like you would put money in the bank to draw interest.  But, how can you best leverage the existing workforce to meet the demands of new businesses?  I believe there are four elements worth looking at:

  1. Know Your Workforce – What are the demographics of the citizens in the local labor market?  What are their educational attainment levels?  What are the range of ages?  Where do they live?  How far do they commute to work now?  Answering these types of questions will help you understand the characteristics of your asset.
  2. Identify Their Skills – Now that you know who makes up your workforce, you need to identify what they can do.  What skills do they currently possess?  What areas of expertise are available within the workforce?  This can be difficult to determine.  However, having this information available will be critical during negotiations with a prospective company.
  3. Invest in Training – Of the companies that you are trying to recruit to your region, what are some basic, general skills required for those jobs?  Why not invest some time and money into training and/or upgrading your local workforce in those skills?  Funding for this type of training can come through Federally funded programs operated by local community colleges, regional Workforce Investment Boards, local economic development entities and others.
  4. Market Your Asset – Once you have taken time to know your workforce, have identified their skills and invested in training, then it’s time to get the information out to prospective organizations that you have a qualified, skilled workforce ready and willing to work.  Publish specific information on the skill sets and experience that’s currently available through your workforce.  For example, list the number of certified welders in the workforce; show the number of individuals in continuing education classes; mention the distance workers are willing to commute to their job…customize the information toward the specific needs of the prospective company.

Many regions around the country have been successful in implementing the four elements as stated above; however, some of them have failed its citizens by being to quick to settle for an organization that’s offering $8 per hour jobs in order to claim victory and see another headline in the local newspaper…when, in fact, all they have done is just sold their workforce – their most valuable asset – at borderline poverty level.  If we are going to improve the quality of life for our citizens, then we must recruit companies that are willing to recognize the true value that’s instilled in our workforce and we must take the necessary steps to invest in and market that asset wisely.  When you have followed this process, then your community has moved one step closer to being more competitive and marking its Xin the global economy.  Take time to leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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