by Jim Walton, CEO, Brand Acceleration, Inc.
The United States economy is a wondrous thing. After a prolonged economic drought, it has significantly improved in recent months. In my opinion, the come-back is entirely because of the dogged tenacity of American companies. The stock market is up, consumer confidence is the highest it has been since 2000, and CEO confidence is surging. Even the U-6 unemployment rate, which measures the unemployed, underemployed, and discouraged workers, indicates that civilian workers are rejoining the ranks of the employed. Great news, for sure, but with this optimism comes a strain on the American workforce.
The nation’s education system is responding in an overwhelming way. Post-secondary educators are discovering the need to rapidly prepare students for the workplace, rather than just for graduation. In K-12 schools, vocational programs are all the rage, after all but disappearing in many schools for decades. Programs in machining, welding, facilities management, distribution, robotics, and STEM curricula are becoming commonplace.
Enrollment in community colleges and technical schools are, in many areas, outpacing that of four-year universities. Schools offering programs in manufacturing, engineering, nursing, aerospace, and other hands-on programs are racing to meet demand. Some universities, not to be left out, are considering ways to streamline programs, offering fast-track, three-year degree programs that more quickly move students into the workforce. In the workplace, employers are beginning to offer apprenticeship programs that provide on-the-job training.
For communities and employers, the challenge of attracting and retaining employees and residents is resulting in some very creative approaches. Together, they may offer signing bonuses, housing allowances, moving expense reimbursements, and countless other tools to lure them in and keep them.
In the old days, back in 2012, newspaper ads and job fairs were very effective at filling jobs. Today, especially in areas with very low unemployment rates, it’s common to hear of job fairs where almost no one shows up.
In our office, we are hearing increasingly from communities needing regional or national marketing campaigns to attract workforce needed to fill open jobs. Often, the push is coming from employers who are demanding help. Fortunately, we have programs in place to help accomplish those goals.
The situation has also put more pressure on community development efforts. Quality of Place has suddenly become a very serious part of the economic development business. When trying to attract workers, especially young professionals, to come live in your community, your lifestyle offerings get more scrutiny than ever. Shopping, dining, K-12 schools, and other offerings may be much more important than just a few years ago. Some communities are beginning to offer incentives to attract retailers as a way of developing a more livable place. The adage “retail follows rooftops” may be outdated. Today, a very common consideration is that companies follow workers, who follow lifestyle, which may be led by retail, etc. In other words, if you want to attract great companies that hire people, you may need to incentivize offerings that attract workers.
So, is there one magic answer? No, but things are sure interesting, aren’t they?