During the MOmentum State of the Workforce survey results luncheon Feb. 20, a cooperative spirit and willingness to explore a variety of workforce development programs was stressed as methods to address workforce development challenges in the Ozarks.
About 325 people attended the fifth-annual event at White River Conference Center, where Springfield’s Workforce Development Director Mary Ann Rojas acknowledged that this year’s survey results have many similarities to the previous year. Hiring difficulties were mentioned as one of the area’s mirroring the 2018 survey, with 67 percent of respondents reporting struggles filling positions over the past 12 months. Last year’s response was 66 percent.
“The secret ingredient to a strong workforce is finding qualified talent,” Rojas said. “But the real way to make a difference is to start preparing tomorrow’s workforce by providing our children with a solid education today.”
Data from the confidential survey covers recruitment, employee retention, education and workforce readiness. Its results allow the Missouri Job Center to assess needs of employers, and identify workforce issues and challenges in a seven-county region.
She said the Ozark region, consisting of Greene, Christian, Dallas, Polk, Stone, Taney and Webster counties, is well served by strong early childhood education programs and solid K-12 school districts. About 20 districts participate in the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies program, which allows high school juniors and seniors to develop professional skills through various employment areas.
Right people for right roles
According to the survey, the top three reasons employers face hiring challenges are a lack of relevant work experience, 36 percent; insufficient number of applicants, 34 percent; and lack of relevant technical or occupational skills, 30 percent. In the 2018 survey, the same responses also ranked in the top three.
Hiring difficulties noted in the survey resonated with Andrew Hedgpeth, vice president of human resources for CoxHealth. He noted 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age every day, making it tougher for employers to find an adequate number of qualified candidates to fill available positions.
“The biggest thing holding us back from what is already a good economy to become an explosive economy is the ability to connect the right skilled people into the right roles,” Hedgpeth said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach to making sure we tend to our economy and grow our workforce for the next generation.”
Unemployment in the Springfield metropolitan statistical area was at 2.6 percent in December – a rate Rojas said has been as low as 1.9 percent. She added programs such as the Job Center’s Change One Thousand pre-employment soft skills academy is important to better prepare adults for the changing workforce. She said the program has graduated eight cohorts thus far with a 51 percent employment rate, noting some of the graduates have been offered more than one job upon graduation.
Event keynote speaker Laith Wardi, president of ExecutivePulse Inc., an Erie, Pennsylvania-based business retention and expansion consulting firm, said soft skills are vital. The days of an employer simply hiring a worker based on whether they can hold a broom and sweep are long gone.
“The make or break in terms of longevity and if you fit into the corporate culture and all that good stuff is soft skills,” he said.
Not alone in this
Scot Scobee, director of human resources at Springfield ReManufacturing Corp., said he was glad to see GO CAPS mentioned at the event as one of the standout programs. SRC was involved in the original focus group for the program and a major sponsor when it debuted in 2015.
“We realized that’s a bridge between industry and education,” he said.
Like the Job Center, SRC isn’t shy about addressing workforce issues, said Krisi Schell, director of talent, culture and community development with SRC Holdings. The survey results and the Feb. 20 workforce event spread the word of common challenges among employers, along with programs that might help lead to solutions, she said.
“It helps us to see we’re not alone in this,” Schell said. “Everybody’s feeling the same symptoms and effects of low unemployment. It also gives us a chance to collaborate with workforce development at the Missouri Job Center.”
A total of 506 completed surveys were reported for 2019, down from 575 responses in 2018, said Katherine Trombetta, Missouri Job Center business services specialist. She attributed the drop-off to a later start than usual to getting the survey available online in mid-November 2018.
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