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2024 Talent Outlook: Ericka Schmeeckle

Interim Director of Workforce Development, City of Springfield

Posted online

Schmeeckle’s 2024 Projection: The biggest trend is the incorporation of artificial intelligence by businesses to enhance the employee experience. Instead of replacing the workforce, the conversations now are talking about how can employers incorporate AI to be more efficient, to take the worker experience and automate something to increase employee satisfaction.

With unemployment in the Springfield metro area averaging 2.5% in the past year, what are the best ways to attract and retain talent?
You Belong in SGF is a group of public entities that are really focused on diversifying the community and attracting talent. They have a huge mural out at the airport. A lot of our grants focus on these efforts as well. The Good Jobs Challenge Grant is all about assisting employers with recruiting that initial talent but also being able to train their workers, upskilling them into career paths they’re interested in. Several people are looking at the apprenticeship models as recruitment tools – they say, “Hey, come and work for us and you can earn while you learn.”

What types of benefits do you suggest companies consider to recruit top talent?
Employers are really looking at whether they’d be able to pay certain amounts of child care portions. Are they offering flex schedules and what people need, like remote options? Even transportation benefits, that you wouldn’t historically hear about being offered.

Is there a way to quantify the area’s so-called brain drain?
We don’t currently have any tracking or quantifying methods. It has been a huge concern. We are working with the schools to mitigate that. With two of our biggest grants – the Apprenticeship Building America Grant at $3 million and the Good Jobs Challenge Grant at $17.5 million – we are partnering with (Missouri State University) for their paraprofessional program. That’s an apprenticeship program working with high school districts to recruit talent, allowing those students to go to MSU and earn their certificate and credentials as a paraprofessional, while being employed at that school district. It grows their own employees and also keeps the talent here.

Who do you see as the responsible parties to keep talent from leaving?
This is a community responsibility, especially with the upcoming generation. They are focused on quality of place and belonging in their community and their workspace. The individual employers have ownership, as well. An article I recently read [in Forbes] said 54% of the upcoming generation will leave a job – even if they value that job and are interested in the work – if they feel they don’t belong in the workspace. That ties into the diversity and belonging in your workspace.

I’ve read about an incentive program in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that offers $10,000 for workers to relocate there. Are you familiar with that?
That benefit is to move there and remote work only. They are recruiting people to live there – a monthly stipend [for renters] and a bigger sum (for homebuyers). I think the purpose was trying not to displace their current people from jobs but to attract people to live in the area, which I find highly interesting. A couple years back, we had applied for a [recruitment] grant but were unsuccessful. We had partnered with northwest Arkansas and Tulsa, the three states together. It was a huge Department of Labor grant. Hopefully, in the future we can revive that again. That would be fantastic for this area. If the opportunity comes again, I would love to submit a proposal, borrowing best practices and understanding the more we all work together, when each of us succeeds, it helps the other out.

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