Workforce Summit: Employers share creative solutions
Washington employers can address their workforce challenges by partnering with schools and nonprofits, and by learning from other companies that have created their own solutions, AWB members heard Wednesday at the second-annual AWB Workforce Summit.
Finding skilled workers is one of the top challenges facing many employers, but there are many tools in the toolbox: Apprenticeships, mentorships, internships, on-the-job training and more. And notably, there are many business, education and nonprofit leaders willing to help and share their experiences, including companies that have created their own workforce pipeline with the help from local schools and nonprofits.
“We’re business. We’re innovative. We need to be nimble and we need to figure this problem out for our own industries,” said Julie Orchard, a human resources client manager at Providence Medical Group in Spokane.Orchard was one of the speakers at the half-day event at the Hilton Bellevue. More than 130 attendees learned how to create a strong workforce pipeline that can sustain the state’s economy for years to come. Conference-goers heard from experts on employment law, apprenticeships, innovative education ideas and creating and maintaining a great place to work.
Providence Medical Group is one organization that has created its own workforce pipeline for medical assistants with the help of local schools, Orchard said. The result is young people can get certifications and earn good wages by age 19, and Providence has a more stable workforce.
“I would tell you, don’t put a box around yourself,” she said. “…So take the box off and think about what are the skills and abilities that your folks need and how are you going to get that, and then partner with your (career technical education) person so you have a real clear goal going forward and they can help you with that.”
Matt Poischbeg, vice president and general manager at SEA-LECT Plastics in Everett, kicked off the event with a with a keynote address describing his own experience finding employees.
Poischbeg described creating his own workforce pipeline after the company’s top mold maker retired, and he was unable to find a replacement. He eventually connected with local schools and the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to workforce development.
Poischbeg told a packed ballroom that a combination of on the job training and school is a great solution for success for both businesses and employees. He also said the labor force is so small that the only future workforce is in school today.
But there are more benefits to workforce development than helping companies fill open spots on the shop floors.
Apprenticeships are the backbone of the middle class in many countries, but not in America, Poischbeg said.
“Here we have a great opportunity to strengthen the middle class,” he said.
Scott Anderson of CSR Marine said he had trouble in school but gained valuable skills in metal shop classes. He had seven job offers when he graduated high school, and later founded his own company.
Employers also heard from innovative education leaders that are shaking up the traditional public school model, including the leader of Spokane Valley Tech, an Eastern Washington high school focused on college and career readiness.Principal Camille Nielsen says she’s battling the notion that all students have to get a four-year college degree, and constantly encouraging kids to look into “fantastic living wage jobs” available through two-year degrees, certifications or training.
“We need you as community members … to help us communicate that message,” Nielsen said.
The day’s final panel featured AWB’s most recent Employers of the Year, who shared their strategies to develop and maintain a healthy workforce.
Michele Beehler of Schweitzer Engineer Laboratories said her company structures employee benefits around long-term incentives like retirement, stock and onsite medical, fitness and childcare for both employees and their families.
Steve Lorence of Energy Northwest says his organization makes major investments in training employees, and noted that a nuclear power plant could be shut down by federal regulators if the right positions are unfilled. Energy Northwest managers make an effort to seek employee feedback, develop and train leaders, and take other steps to reduce turnover and boost morale.
Dan and Jodi Martinez of AllStar Glass in Spokane attended Wednesday’s event to learn more about developing a future workforce pipeline to work at their commercial glazing company. They wanted to get out of their backyard, Dan Martinez said, to see what was working in western Washington. They intend to connect with the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee to learn more.
“We’re glad we came,” Dan Martinez said.
Washington’s workforce conversation will likely continue for many years to come. The state will need to fill 740,000 jobs in future years, and more than two thirds of those jobs will require some kind of postsecondary credential.
To learn more about workforce development in Washington, please contact AWB Government Affairs Director Amy Anderson at 360.943.1600.
Click here for a social media roundup of Wednesday’s event.