Working the Macro and Micro of Workforce
Workforce development looks very different depending on perspective. As we engage with stakeholders in our community on their workforce challenges what a solution looks like is very different. Solving an employer’s talent challenges and building a vibrant labor economy are very different tasks and very different conversations. My goal today is to dive into that and talk about the individual, corporate, and societal aspects of our workforce conversations.
As we at Invest think about the mandates of workforce development we sort deliverables into a few large buckets:
- Expand the pool of available talent
- Remove barriers between individuals and economic vitality
- Help local businesses attract, retain and support talent as efficiently as possible
The macro-economics of workforce is largely centered around the overall availability of workers within a given economic zone. In Hamilton County we are blessed with and led by visionary stakeholders and leaders that have produced an attractive community seeing consistent population growth. We also have a comparatively high labor force participation rate when measured against peer communities, the Midwest and the USA. So, for us addressing this objective looks different from some of our neighbors.
At a macro level priorities must be centered around creating more efficient pathways to opportunity and utilizing this period when employers are having to work hard to fill positions to engage them in efforts that expand the labor pool. Data from the Indiana Chamber and myriad other sources show that as positions are more difficult to fill (most) employers are more likely to engage in efforts like high-school visits/internships, reentry hiring or disability initiatives. But for many employers’ programs like these are ways to win at the margins on talent, and only help fill positions with low barriers to entry.
From January 2021 through December 2022 there were 124,274 unique positions open in Hamilton County. Only 46,002 (37%) of those required any prior work experience and only 25,317 (20.3%) required a bachelor’s degree or higher education. Approximately 60% of Hamilton County residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education. This is a community and moment that possesses extraordinary opportunity for those members of our society traditionally encountering the most significant barriers to economic opportunity.
For us once those individuals are productively reengaged in the labor force (or engaged in a more productive manner) the next step must become how do we work with employers and community partners (where appropriate) to build systems that up-skill them into harder to fill positions with longer onramps. This is the definition of a career pathway.
At a micro-level for individual corporations engaging in innovative community programs can build goodwill, positively impact culture, and help build organic recruitment pipelines that fill a portion of overall opportunity. But most of what workforce development means for an individual employer is recruitment and retention… and that really means being a more attractive place to work than the other organization currently employing the workers you want. This can sound a little morbid to some, but the benefits of our free-market economy are that as one workplace raises wages, benefits, and establishes better cultural expectations competitors are forces to do the same… improving the employment experience of entire occupations over time.
So when we meet with an individual employer in the community struggling to fill a position we talk a little about the macro-economic components of workforce like disability hiring, reentry employment or the new CTE District (The Pursuit Institute) and how to engage… but in those conversations what can make a more immediate impact on the bottom line and establish a relationship of trust is more often, “here’s what other businesses are paying these positions in the community”… “let’s analyze your recruitment metrics and talk culture”… “how do you pro-actively support employee mental health?”… and “here’s where the workers you need are working today.”