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Opinion: Find diverse talent by taking new paths

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The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce recently held an emerging workforce panel discussion with its P-20 Council of the Ozarks advisory committee. The focus for the advisory committee is to engage the business and education communities.

The panel participants were representatives from two high schools, local colleges and universities, and a couple of young professionals who recently entered the workforce. I applaud the chamber for being intentional when they selected the panel members. The panel was a diverse coverage of racial/ethnic, gender, age, rural, urban and career interests that required certifications and college degrees.

The panel members shared that full health benefits and leadership that valued their work was extremely important to them. The majority of the panel members prefer a team environment, with quiet space when needed. For some of the panel members, they left their job to work for other companies because of better career paths, flexible schedules and increased wages. Companies that were willing to pay for additional educational opportunities also was important rather than traditional tuition reimbursement.

Mentors also were important to them. For example, one young professional, Roy Hardy Jr., started his career preparation as a member of the Drury University Scholars Program and later became a member of the Bridge Springfield: Brother to Brother program. Through these mentoring programs and networking opportunities, while still in college, Hardy participated in Springfield’s Diversity Talent Hub Job Fair and received a paid internship at City Utilities of Springfield. Upon college graduation, he was hired by CU to work full time.

Listening to the panel reminded me of when I managed a 200-seat call center. I hired individuals who were energetic, passionate, creative, analytical and career driven. I realized I hired people who were more like me than what was needed for the position. For future hires, I included in the interview process appropriate individuals who were not like me. This included different ages, gender, race/ethnicity and skill sets. I also kept in mind that applicants identified for interviews were based on a person meeting the minimum qualifications, which meant that it was OK to give someone a chance who was at the minimum qualifications. And those were some of my best hires.

As our community grows, we should remember that our biggest challenge is underemployment. The three main pathways to address this issue are:

1. Assistance with unfinished credentials. Ask your employees if they have unfinished credentials and help them finish.

2. Short-term training programs. Pay for entry-level employees to attend short-term training programs during work hours or provide on-site short-term training for employees to advance at their current place of employment.

3. Increased apprenticeship programs. Use vacant midlevel positions to create apprenticeships to increase the skill level for existing employees.

We will attract and retain some of the best talent if we look for talent that does not look like us and when we are willing to give someone a chance.

Francine Pratt is director of Prosper Springfield, a poverty reduction initiative led by Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks. She can be reached at fpratt@cpozarks.org.

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