5 Strategies for a Stronger Future Workforce

Ask any growing business today what their biggest challenge is and most will tell you, “Hiring”.

Finding people with a combination of the right skills, the ideal personality/attitude and ambition is difficult. The unemployment rate hovers at 5% nationally and 4% locally which means fewer people are available for work. According to the Center for Workforce Research and Information, that means that in Maine, of the 675,000 people in the workforce, only 27,000 are available. That should be enough to fill the positions open; but think about the skills necessary for the jobs. Are these people qualified? Chances are since they are the last few unemployed, they lack skills.Worker & boss

Nationally and globally, the situation is very similar. The boomers are retiring, the millennial population cannot fill the need and those in between are working. Maine has not been the place for younger people to settle in. We are in an employee market. They have the upper hand of where they work, how much they make, how many hours they work and/or how long they will be with you.

Many ideas have been bantered about of how to fix this labor deficit. How do we attract young people to stay, return or move to Maine? Or is the other question, “how do we hire refugees, train them and make them productive members of our communities?”  We have spent many years discussing how to retain young people for our future workforce. Once they experience life elsewhere, especially in larger cities, they tend to find things about life there that is missing here. Maine has never had a large city. When we boast about our largest cities, we are still talking about cities that are under 100,000 people. Cities with populations over a million do have more to offer in terms of entertainment, social life and business/work opportunities.

Then we resort to our natural beauty of mountains, forests, ocean and seasons. These make us a nice place to visit. Ironically, we have refugees moving here that believe here is the best place to live in the world. They settle in, begin their own businesses, become a part of the communities they live in and afford us the opportunity to hire them. There are language and culture barriers that need to work themselves out, but any community willing to invest the time (yes, it does run into years) will soon have an added diversity and industrious employees.

Globally, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has been addressing this workforce dilemma. The challenge they have identified (which we are all familiar with) is a skills lag. The skills needed today in the modern workforce will not be the skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce. Not unlike Moore’s Law of integrated circuits doubling in capacity each year, the skills needed for 2020 will be different from those needed today (see chart).

How do we ready a workforce for skills that are dependent on future technological developments?

Top 20 Skills Chart

Here are five strategies you can start implementing today for the future:

1.      Small Businesses must emphasize employee development as a priority strategy. Employees that will be needed in the next 5 to 10 years must be planned for and pursued.  It is no longer a matter of placing ads, posting job openings or reliance on recruitment of competitor resources. Train, provide HR support and begin looking ahead.

2.      Small business manufacturers must cozy up to their equipment suppliers, learn what they see for future technological and mechanical requirements and work with them to develop their employee skills. Service businesses must do the same and keep their staffs educated on current and future software. Partnerships will form between businesses and their suppliers to educate workforces through training and maintenance.

3.      Retail businesses must adapt to transaction technology as soon as possible and work with financial institutions to assist in employee training. As Paypal advertised during the Super Bowl, the new money is paperless transactions with multiple media to accomplish it. It is a means of supplying payment equipment with appropriate guidance by vendors for retail clerks to perform safe and secure transactions that protect the end users.

4.      Educational institutions are not exempt here. From elementary to high schools, any school district that has not updated their curriculum annually is supplying unprepared graduates to the workforce. Students are far more digital than their teachers. That needs to turn around. Curricula must reflect a balance of traditional education with digital competence accelerated.

5.      Governments, both local and state must support educational changes that are coming. They can no longer react to technological changes that are archaic by the time the students graduate. Grades 1 to 12 are twelve fast years that have the potential to require a change in educational methods 4 to 5 times. Keeping up is mandatory for communities to stay afloat in the global marketplace. At all times including those of economic uncertainty and budget cuts, emphasis must be placed on education above all other needs to cultivate a community’s future prosperity.

If you are in education, you know what STEM is. While years ago, the future was in just going to college, today’s future is in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics regardless of how you get there. Schools must change to adapt to the digitally enhanced way of learning. Brick and mortar institutions must adapt.

Businesses must urge their local education boards to design curricula appropriate for workforce development pertinent to their community and place education at the top of the priority list for their towns and cities.

Companies will learn that they need to become talent destinations. That will only happen when the shift to talent development becomes part of the company culture. Investments in employee development, ongoing training and broader and more creative benefits will retain the best and the brightest.  Profitability and success will depend on it.

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