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City rolls out annual workforce survey

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While Mary Ann Rojas considers the past four years of the city’s workforce survey a success, Springfield’s Workforce Development director isn’t shy about wanting the annual MOmentum: State of the Workforce survey to get more responses.

“Of course, we’d like to see more participation,” she said of the 20-question survey, which went live again Nov. 16 for businesses and organizations to fill out online at WDB2019.com.

The survey period concludes Jan. 18. For the 2018 survey, about 575 businesspeople responded and organizers expect a similar response rate.

The confidential survey, which Rojas said takes about five minutes to complete, provides data for the Missouri Job Center to assess needs of employers, while also identifying issues and challenges in the workforce of the seven-county region. It covers Greene, Christian, Dallas, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster counties.

The survey asks about recruitment, hiring difficulties, skills and training, workforce concerns and assistance, employee retention, education and workforce readiness.

Around 350 responses were received from the inaugural survey in 2014, Rojas said, with results presented at a State of the Workforce luncheon in February, now held every year. Participation continued to grow for the next three years, reaching 576 responses in 2017.

One of those who already responded to the 2019 survey is Tim Ryan, superintendent of the Dallas County R-I School District. Area school superintendents are among those the Missouri Job Center encourages to take the survey. Ryan said it holds value for him leading the largest employer in Dallas County with roughly 290 employees.

“We hit both ends of the spectrum,” he said, in reference to the district being a large employer but also educating and training students for higher education and employment opportunities. “It’s interesting information to us because we’re preparing people for the workforce.”

Aside from offering training in nursing, welding and auto repair, Ryan said the district has added several courses at its career and technical center over the past couple years,  covering criminal justice for those interested in law enforcement, as well as teacher preparation.

Last year, 43 percent of survey respondents said they planned to hire new employees in 2018. Another 54 percent expected employee levels to stay the same and only 3 percent projected a decrease.

Ryan said school districts all too often see themselves as separate from the workforce. Participating in the survey reminded him that’s not the case. His district deals with employee retention issues just like any company, he added.

“We’re competing for workers as everyone else. Our salaries or hourly pay has to be consistent with the rest of the working world,” Ryan said, noting the district has focused on improving teacher pay over the past three years.

Starting teacher salaries are up $3,000 over the last few years to $33,600, he said.

The survey provides common ground for employers, Rojas said, be it a school district, manufacturing plant or nonprofit organization.

“Employers for the last year have been feeling a lot of angst in terms of being able to find qualified applicants. For one thing, I think it validates their own level of frustration,” she said of the survey. “It kind of helps when you know you’re not in this alone.”

The initial State of the Workforce luncheon and results helped establish a number of Missouri Job Center initiatives, as cards were laid out on every table asking those in attendance to answer basic questions about their top concern with the workforce and employer training needs, Rojas said.

“Overwhelmingly, the responses that we got kind of mirrored our targeted industries – manufacturing, construction, informational technology and health care,” she said. “That has provided us with kind of a blueprint for what types of activity or training solutions we can bring to the industry.”

Other initiatives born were industry roundtables, which the Job Center offers four times a year, and Change One Thousand, its pre-employment skills training academy.

“I think it really does help us to develop that workforce system. Not just looking at one organization and what they can do,” she said. “What MOmentum is brings together a lot of partners, lots of employers and individuals who are really engaged and interested in building a workforce system that’s going to help stimulate our economy. That is really our ultimate goal.”

Results from the new survey will be announced Feb. 20, 2019, at the fifth-annual MOmentum State of the Workforce Luncheon at White River Conference Center. The scheduled keynote speaker is Laith Wardi, president and founder of ExecutivePulse Inc., an Erie, Pennsylvania-based business retention and expansion consulting firm.

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