America is the land of plenty, but when it comes to maintaining a skilled workforce, new challenges for many industries are plentiful as well. As the aging baby boomer workforce retires apace, their valued skills are becoming harder and harder to replace.
While skill gaps in the workforce are challenging all industries, the pinch is particularly felt within the manufacturing and construction industries, both hard hit in the last recession. Resulting widespread layoffs discouraged many young people from training in those fields. Now, as demand is surging, the pipeline output of entry level skilled workers has been reduced to a trickle. Associated General Contractors recently reported that 86% of its members had difficulty filling open positions in 2015, up from 83% the year previously. That trend is expected to continue.
Anoka County’s MetroNorth Chamber is stepping up to help close the workforce gap, said Terry Hart, vice president and director of operations at Kraus-Anderson’s Circle Pines office. As president of MetroNorth Chamber’s newly-established Workforce Development Foundation, he recently provided some insight into the Chamber’s and the Foundation’s work.
Q: What is the Workforce Development Foundation, and how does it integrate with the work of the MetroNorth Chamber?
TERRY HART: The MetroNorth Chamber focuses on addressing the growing hiring and talent needs of the business community in the Anoka County area. The Foundation has been created to raise funds and to be a funding resource that supports the workforce development needs of the local business community. Together, we aim to bring business and education together to ensure a high caliber workforce in Anoka County, which maintains a substantial base of construction, manufacturing, and healthcare businesses. By providing the necessary tools to equip our future employees, we can help build local businesses, while enriching our entire community.
Q: What are some examples of how you’re linking students with area businesses?
TERRY HART: As a starting point for the Foundation, we’re focusing on building career awareness and interest in K-12 students and parents. The dollars raised by the foundation will go to provide grants and scholarships to support activities such as student job fairs and student tours at local businesses and manufacturing facilities. Funding can remove some really basic barriers, providing things like bus transportation for students to tour a plant, space rental for community education, or tuition grants.
Q: Why do you invest your time and resources into this cause?
TERRY HART: There’s a critical need, and I think we’re in a good position to address it. MetroNorth is the premier business organization and advocate for the north metro. KA has been part of this business community and part of the MetroNorth Chamber for decades. A number of our employees are active members of the chamber.
I’m also a member of the Anoka County Workforce Council, and KA is involved with the Minnesota Association of School Administrators; both are great resources for building relationships among schools and the business sector.
Also, KA is also very much ingrained in the K-12 school systems throughout the state. Our people are working with school administrators and staff every day, so we have tremendous access to and understanding of their goals and challenges as well as the business community’s. All in all, it’s a good fit for us.
Q: What do you see on the horizon for the Workforce Development Foundation?
TERRY HART: I think as we develop we may look at providing funding assistance to training organizations, including post-secondary scholarships. And I think we will build on our own awareness of strategies. Other industries have developed very proactive career change programs to generate interest, recruit and train new people to their industries. We may help adapt those strategies to our industries.
Q: What do you suggest as next steps for those interested in learning more or contributing to the Workforce Development Foundation?
TERRY HART: Join the discussion! All MetroNorth members are automatically eligible to become part of the Workforce Development Foundation. And your donation to the foundation is greatly appreciated. It is tax deductible and it’s a great way to invest in our future economic vitality.