A skilled, efficient and plentiful workforce is the foundation of most businesses. Without it we struggle to remain stable. It’s a delicate balance. Businesses want just enough workforce in-house to complete the work they have, but also want a readily available and capable workforce on demand when growth requires more staffing. When they can’t find the workforce to grow, businesses are forced to spend hard-won resources on extended training to evolve their current workforce into that they need it to be.
However, there is something we can do about it. We have tremendous education resources in our area. Our K-12 districts, collegiate institutions and private vocational schools want to produce that workforce we all desire. But they can’t do it alone – businesses must be part of the process.
If our workforce is our foundation, then our businesses are analogous to a building or a structure, like a bridge. Well, on second thought, it would probably be a stretch to try to connect a healthy business environment, a thriving workforce and a bridge to make my point. I’ll stick with the building analogy.
A skilled, efficient and plentiful workforce doesn’t just happen. Like a foundation, it is built with intention and purpose. For the building to simply continue to be strong, both our foundation and our workforce need consistent and strategic maintenance. For the building to expand up or out, the foundation has to improve. This seems obvious, but it can be easy to forget. Maintaining and improving the foundation can be less visible that a fresh coat of paint (logo) on the building. But if you ignore your foundation, the building can begin to crumble. If you can’t add the right new pieces to your foundation, you can’t expand to serve those new clients you worked so hard to win. Don’t let the lack of an adequate workforce hold you back.
Building the foundation via workforce development isn’t easy, and we often need professional help. Following the construction analogy, even the best do-it-yourselfer needs a good contractor once in a while. I believe we have some of the best workforce development contractors at our fingertips here, but they need our partnership and input to produce the employees of tomorrow and help us train our current staff.
Our K-12 districts and higher education institutions in Southwest Washington are incredible. Our private vocational school programs are robust. Our Workforce Development Council has horsepower to help when our needs are made clear. And while we have many local success stories, there is much more potential. To unlock that potential we need better bridges between businesses, our education partners and our workforce development practitioners. Yes, I did say bridges, plural. In this case I agree that we need more than one bridge to help this region’s business environment thrive.
There are a variety of ways to build those bridges. For instance, nConnect NW provides opportunities for professionals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines to mentor students interested in those fields. Another example comes from my company, MacKay Sposito, where many members of our survey management staff have taught surveying and geomatics classes at Clark College to help train the next generation of professionals. Then there’s a company like SEH America, which has an internship program with Evergreen Public Schools for high school students. The internship program provides students with valuable job training, but it also allows SEH to influence the curriculum so that students are better prepared to work in their industry, even if the students choose not to attend college.
Obviously, not every business can afford to mentor, teach or provide internships, but if your business has a need that education can help address, it’s almost certain that others in your line of work have the same need. Why not meet with educational institutions to advocate for your industry? It requires very little time but can have a huge positive impact, both for your business and our community.
If your business isn’t connected to one of these organizations to promote the production and continuation of a skilled, efficient and plentiful workforce, I encourage you to connect and help invest in your foundation for the future.
Tim Schauer is president of Vancouver-based MacKay Sposito Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.