Community Insights, a partnership of the Montgomery County Community Foundation and League of Women Voters, recently launched a three-part public participation series on workforce issues in the community. Each of the three sessions brought about 30 attendees together in Fusion 54 to listen to presenters working directly with the issues and then to share their points of view and suggestions for addressing work force concerns. 

The Community Insights partnership resulted as the MCCF responded to the Lilly Endowment’s Gift VII program’s call for foundations’ active leadership in addressing community problems and the League’s Economic Health committee’s member survey indicating workforce as an important issue for research, public education and advocacy. Focusing the first session on Workforce: The Big Picture, MCCF and the League recognized the crucial impact of workforce issues on the life and growth of our community. 

In “The Big Picture,” economic development consultant, Cheryl Morphew and Chamber of Commerce director, Rick Hernandez, gave a Montgomery County workforce overview. Of the total employment (not including health care) which is about 20,500, manufacturing jobs make up 24.7 percent, government 10.4 percent, retail 10 percent, transportation/warehousing 6.2 percent and farm 3.7 percent. Wages here compare favorably with other state averages. With unemployment at 3.6 percent, compared to the state’s 4.1 percent, Montgomery County is essentially at full employment. Baby Boomer generation (born between 1945 and 1965) retirements add to the problem of a low inventory of qualified workers and, even now, companies are reluctant to expand or relocate here.

The second session, Workforce: The Human (Resources) Perspective, brought together Lori Holt, assistant human resources manager at Pace Dairy; Diana Tran, store manager, Home Depot; Trey Etcheson, chief executive officer, Hoosier Heartland State Bank; and Kim Keeling, human resources manager, LSC Communications. 

In addition to echoing their love of the community and their professional positions, all of the panelists expressed pride in their companies. They are especially proud of their companies’ “top notch,” long-time, active employees. Each company works hard to keep its valued employees with various incentives. LSC is establishing a health clinic. Home Depot has taken care of its employees when they have faced personal disaster and assists with college tuition for employees’ children. Wages at PACE are among the highest in the community. HHSB is an employee-owned bank that developed its own mission, vision, values and practice of giving back 10 percent of its net income to the community. Presenters each recognized the market for employees is competitive and with such low unemployment, bringing in new employees who demonstrate the “soft skills” (showing up on time, staying throughout the shift and staying long term with the company) is difficult.

The third session, Workforce: Getting Schooled, included Shawn Greiner, superintendent of Southmont School Corporation; Scott Bowling, superintendent of Crawfordsville School Corporation; Patty Plantega, Ivy Tech Community College; Samantha Cotton, high school career coach; and Sara Nicodemus, Career & Technical Education coordinator. Each presenter shared what is happening in the schools and Ivy Tech to address the workforce needs in our community. A variety of career fairs, internships and curriculum attention are providing a direct pathway between education, careers and wage related jobs. Students are learning that with a strong work ethic, academic achievement and clean record good paying jobs are available in Montgomery County. Specialized certification and classes through Ivy Tech can prepare high school graduates for direct employment with little or no college debt.

Attendees at the three Community Insights programs expressed interest in learning more about the profile of the workforce and specific needs of our employees and employers. Barriers to workforce participation included childcare, transportation, drug use, lack of housing and weak work ethic. They recognized the need for more workers and suggested ideas such as marketing opportunities to students and their parents, a workforce academy and other ideas to reach, educate and incentivize the relatively few not working and those who leave Montgomery County for positions elsewhere.

The Foundation and the League thank all the presenters and attendees who participated in this first Community Insights series. The plan is to continue listening to ideas for solutions and working to turn ideas into action.

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