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How To Crack The Workforce Development System With Just A Few Phone Calls

Every US city, region and state has a workforce development system – a network of government agencies and nonprofits trying to connect workers to employers. The problem: most of those systems are completely confusing.

Unless you’ve really taken the time to understand your local employment ecosystem – and if you’re busy running a business, you almost certainly haven’t – it can be hard to know which entities will be most likely to help you find the talent need. Do you contact somebody at your area Workforce Development Board? Start with the Urban League? The Salvation Army? Or another of the dozens of organizations you get when you Google “workforce development [your city]”?

Here’s a tip, from someone who did have to spend time learning his way around the workforce development world: you don’t have to learn the system, what all those organizations do or who’s best suited to help you. As a manufacturer, you can put the burden on them to prove they can help you. For a non-profit helping get people into jobs, finding a factory employer with roles to fill is like discovering an oil reserve under their driveway.

So the best way to find the service that’s right for you is to pick up the phone. Call your workforce development board and ask for a referral. Or go back to that first page of Google results and just pick one. Call them up, tell them you’re a manufacturer with open jobs and ask if they can help. You’ll know in less than five minutes if they can. If they start asking questions about your business, the job readiness and technical training you’re looking for, you’ve found a willing partner. If they have an easy process for you to start engaging, you’ll know you’re probably not going to get the runaround.

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If you don’t think they can help, thank them for their time – then hang up and call the next one. Do that for a few hours and I can pretty much promise you’ll have connected with at least two or three organizations that will throw their energy into finding employees for you. Maybe only one will prove they can deliver, but then you’ll have opened a new talent pipeline – one that could supply you with good people for years, and that will get more effective as the group refines its candidates and training based on your feedback.

The Talent Gap Isn’t Dead

In my experience, manufacturers don’t take advantage of the workforce development ecosystems on anywhere near the level that the fast food and service industries do. Those industries are seeking lower-skilled workers; it’s much harder to find the kind of people who can run the sophisticated machines that modern factories use.

And make no mistake, you’re going to need the talent. It’s tempting for manufacturing and community leaders to look at the 12.6 million Americans who are unemployed and conclude that Covid-19 has eliminated their talent shortage. It hasn’t. Laid-off restaurant servers and airline middle managers aren’t rushing to get jobs on factory floors. When the pandemic subsides and the economy comes back, the war for talent will be as ferocious and frustrating as it was on March 4th. Even today, there remain thousands of unfilled manufacturing jobs despite 8% unemployment.

But a high unemployment rate can work to your advantage. All those workforce-development organizations suddenly have a lot more people they’re trying to shepherd into promising career tracks. And they’re doing it with fewer resources – federal and state funding for workforce development has been in steady decline for several decades, coinciding with a long-term decline in on-the-job training from employers.

Be Patient. And Be Ready to Help

You’ll see the funding decline for yourself when you start working with these organizations, many of which will be understaffed and underpaid. That’s important to keep in mind because it will impact the level of service you get.

These organizations need and want you as a customer, but they don’t always have the means to be as responsive, efficient or polished as you’d expect from any other service business. If you work with enough of them, you’ll encounter a few that seem promising but then utterly fail to deliver: if they’re part of the public workforce system, maybe all that work gets swallowed by the bureaucracy they serve; if they’re a nonprofit, perhaps they’re hindered by other challenges, like not fully understanding your business, or being unable to close the gap between where their clients are and what your business expects.  

So temper your expectations. This is a free service. And remember: the people who work in these organizations are doing work they believe in, under tremendous constraints but with persistence and dedication to helping others.

And as a business leader, you can do your part by providing useful guidance and feedback, especially if the organization is missing the mark. Tell them you’re going to demand better of them, because you believe in them. Ask what you can do to help them get better, to expand their services to more people. Treat it like a partnership, with both sides giving and receiving value. You’re never going to stop needing good people, so it’s worth the time, the effort and the frustration to find the right group.

This way, you’ll eventually be part of the solution – for both your community and your business.

Source: Forbes – Business

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