It seems that everyone faces workforce challenges. It was one of the top answers in a recent survey of rural challenges, and is mentioned often as a rural economic development challenge. You’re not the only one caught between businesses who can’t fill the jobs they have open and young people who say there are no jobs here.
I want to look at three time frames: short term, long term, and the future.
Short term, you have to deal with the people you already have. You start by building better connections between the people you have and the jobs available. Sure, there are already some connections between the employers and the educational system, but there’s a problem: things change.
Think about this for a second: how much have the jobs and types of jobs available changed over just the past five years? A lot? If that’s true, then it seems likely that you need to spend some time updating the old connections, making sure teachers, students, organizations, schools, career techs/vo-techs, community colleges, 4 year colleges, big universities based in other towns that cover your area, and every other educational institution actually knows what jobs are here and how students can connect to them.
Then it’s time to turn that around. How much do the businesses know about what has changed in all the schools in even the past 5 years? Do the businesses know about other businesses in town that might be a good source of trained workers? Are there connections or collaborations that can help address each others’ needs?
Another part of short-term work is to reach out to diverse groups in your community. Who is slipping through the cracks of your current system? People already in your community are a ready resource, compared to people who would have to be convinced to make a move.
To get inspired and take action on the short-term work, watch this extremely informative TEDx talk: Small town big change: Mayor Dale Williams at TEDxAuckland. He took on the “no jobs!” “no workers!” conundrum, and won.
Long term, the answer is to make your town a better place to live. If you want people to move to town to take jobs, you have to make it a town people want to move to. The good news is you have potential partners for this effort all over town: artists, real estate professionals, economic development people, tourism groups, churches, and a lot more. Figure out how to start bringing these people together and building connections!
For practical steps toward attracting new people, check out my piece on If it’s a nice place to visit, it’s a nice place to live.
I’m sure you noticed the Idea Friendly platform under this: Gather your Crowd, Build Connections, Take Small Steps.
And that leads us to the future. What will the jobs/workforce question look like 30 years from now? I think jobs will be far less relevant. We’ll have a lot more people who create their own business or work on their own terms. Automation will take over a lot of what economic developers used to call “good jobs.” Creative expression, craft skills, and personal contact will be far more important. Work may be short term, changeable, and tied to projects rather than lifetime careers.