Closing The Workforce Gap

Written by: Brady Drake

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It is no secret that labor quality, skills and talent shortages are a top national concern. The “National Federation of Independent Businesses said 23 percent of small-business owners cited labor quality as their most pressing issue, the highest since 2000.” Continued trends of North Dakota’s competitive workforce challenges continue to be the top barrier to economic growth of recruitment, retaining and growing talent. According to the recent North Dakota Workforce Survey, the top five industries expecting to create the most jobs from 2019-2023 in North Dakota include healthcare, mining, construction, manufacturing and retail trade with an expected total job creation across all industries to be 14,191 in 2019.

Among the North Dakota Workforce Survey (2018), which was sponsored and supported by North Dakota Workforce Development Council, Greater North Dakota Chamber and NDSU’s Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise (PCPE), found some key findings relating to why organizations are struggling to find top talent in North Dakota:

  • 28 percent of job openings go unfilled for longer than three months.
  • Almost half of North Dakota hiring managers see the inability to hire and retain workers as an issue for impairing company growth.
  • 48 percent of hiring managers view high wage demands and a limited talent pool as a barrier to hiring key workers.
  • 75 percent of hiring managers have no formal training budget.

According to the Census Bureau, insufficient supply of labor and skill was a primary reason why manufactures are operating below capacity. According to Industry Week (October 4, 2018), manufacturing is in the midst of a new industrial revolution that requires a workforce equipped with new, advanced technology skills,” said Jeannine Kunz, vice president, Tooling U-SME. “Putting learning and development on the back burner is not an option for companies that want to succeed in today’s ever-changing and increasingly competitive world.”

Workforce must be a strategic priority, the Industry Pulse: 2018 Manufacturing Workforce Report, stated. Many industries in the US are facing acute skills shortage and looking at creative solutions to solve this challenge through recruitment strategies, talent transformation through radical reskilling their workforce, academic partnerships and creating a learning culture.

In the Harvard Business Review “AT&T’s Talent Overhaul,” John Donovan and Cathy Benko talks about AT&T talent transformation of reskilling, “AT&T’s chief strategy officer and group president, John Donovan, describes how AT&T is in a sprint to reinvent itself as its industry moves from cable to the cloud. Rather than hiring new talent wholesale, AT&T has chosen to rapidly reskill more than a hundred thousand of its current employees.”

Top ten ways organizations can participate in closing the gap

  1. Provide on-the-job experience, such as internships and participate in advisory boards to establish curriculum
  2. Implement apprenticeship programs for intense job training
  3. Partner with K-12 programs to offer early exposure to career path concepts
  4. Support certifications and credentials to validate skills and knowledge
  5. Implement effective method and assessments of evaluating the skills and competencies of pipeline candidates
  6. Incorporate mentorship program with students (middle school, high school, post-secondary)
  7. Establish defined career paths for employees
  8. Positive candidate and employee experience during recruitment and on-boarding
  9. Tuition reimbursement programs
  10. Effective succession planning

Engagement during a talent transformation is how organizations unlock workforce potential, AT&T was “deliberate in mapping out a blueprint of the future capabilities they will need.” They have also been transparent with their employees about future prospects by communicating messages such as: “We currently have thousands of hardware engineers, and a few years from now, we’ll probably only need a few hundred or less. If you choose to, we’ll provide you with the opportunity to acquire more contemporary, relevant skills and continue your career journey here. You may elect not to, but be on notice that the further down the road we get, the less likely it will be that we’ll need your services.”

As an employee, when you hear these messages such as what AT&T shared “there’s only one CEO of each of our careers—ourselves. And, as CEO, each one of us is responsible for playing an active role in ensuring the relevance of our skills and the continued cultivation of our careers. One way to do so is to periodically market skills and capabilities, growing those skills that are market relevant.” (“The Solution to the Skills Gap Could Already Be Inside Your Company” written by Eben Harrell). Academic partnerships are a way that employers support their workforce to acquire various skills and certifications.

In Timm Runnion and Ivana Gibson’s Harvard Business Review article, “Companies Can Address Talent Shortages by Partnering with Educators” shared that “one approach that has proven to be successful in recent years consists of targeted partnerships between business and education. To facilitate these, companies typically begin by assessing their human capital needs and job requirements, and then collaborate with schools to produce workers with the needed skills.”

North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS), TrainND and several other academic institutions partner with several organizations on academic programing to provide to their workforce. Many organizations offer tuition reimbursement to support career growth of their workforce.

A unique example is Amazon’s tuition assistance Career Choice program, “What makes the program unique is that it recognizes that while some individuals will make their careers at Amazon, others will use it as a stepping stone to something else. Career Choice embraces this, providing employees with opportunities for skills and training that lead to career betterment. Through this program, Amazonians are becoming nurses, pharmacy technicians, IT helpdesk professionals and commercial truck drivers—all job fields that are in high demand, and that provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.” This approach may or may not be an option for your organization, but it demonstrates a creative approach to helping to close the skill gap.

Another well-known organization, Microsoft, focuses on an online learning and hands-on-labs approach. Microsoft offers enterprise developer-focused AI program, which “provides job-ready skills and real-world experience to engineers and others who are looking to improve their skills in AI and data science through a series of online courses that feature hands-on labs and expert instructors,” (“Can Microsoft Close The Skills Gap With AI Training Course” by April Slattery).

Not only are organizations prioritizing academic partnerships, other organizations are looking at succession planning and recruitment. Duke Energy is focusing on modernizing their internal systems and succession planning. Duke Energy predicts that 9 percent of their employees will retire or exit the organization by 2021 and, to solve for this, they launched a Veteran Recruitment Strategy, which is a commitment to diversity, inclusion and emphasized their commitment supporting veterans in the workforce. Duke Energy is using this recruitment and succession planning approach to build a skilled and capable pipeline of top talent.

Organizations recognize the necessity to being dedicated to closing the gap, it is a work in progress, a nationwide effort across government, private sector, academic and training institutions. IBM said it well, “this is not about white collar vs. blue collar but about the “new-collar” jobs employers in many industries demand, but remain largely unfilled. To create ‘new collar’ jobs, we will need new kinds of collaboration involving federal and state governments, public school systems, community colleges, private business across multiple industries.”

Resources to consider for various training efforts and partnerships

For more information on the subject, contact your HR or Organizational Development team, or reach out to me through LinkedIn or [email protected].

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.