Our very own Scot Scobee, from our sister-company Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation, is featured in the below article from Biz417. This is a very interesting ready on workforce development. Enjoy!
While many local companies struggle to recruit workers, some organizations are facing the region’s workforce development challenges head-on. Learn about their creative solutions to attracting and retaining talented employees.
BY STEPHANIE TOWNE BENOIT
At the height of the Great Recession, the scheduling board in the office of Brookline Doorworks, a Springfield garage door installer and retailer owned by Mark Foley, was woefully empty. With demand drying up and builders hunkering down to weather the storm, contractors and suppliers of all stripes felt the pinch.
Reluctant to lay off staff, Foley cut workers’ hours and struggled to find odd jobs to fill their days at work. “We tried to keep everybody busy,” Foley says. “For a while, there were some people working maybe three days a week. There wasn’t enough work.”
Fast forward a few years. The economy recovered, putting more money in homeowners’ pockets and encouraging developers to bring new projects online, causing Foley’s business to surge. “When I look at our scheduling board, there’s a lot more new construction installs,” he says. “A few years ago we might have had four or five a week, or three a week—now, we have several per day.”
But as demand for new commercial and residential construction increased, another demand—the need for skilled workers—skyrocketed, too. “It’s always been more difficult to find someone with experience in this line of work,” Foley says. “Now, it’s harder than ever.”
That need for skilled labor, and the difficulty in finding it, translates across industries in the region. According to the Ozark Region Workforce Development Board and Missouri Job Center’s 2017 State of the Workforce Survey, 72 percent of its 576 respondents reported having difficulty filling positions during the past year, up from 59 percent in last year’s report.
The situation is likely to grow in severity due to a low 3.9 percent unemployment rate as of March, technology-driven shifts in industries and other market and demographic forces. But despite those obstacles, local companies are taking steps to find solutions for their immediate and long-term workforce needs by implementing robust strategies to attract talent, equipping current staff with resources to grow into hard-to-fill roles and reaching out to future generations in hopes of drawing workers into fields in need of skilled labor.
Ramping Up Recruitment
The manufacturing floor at Springfield ReManufacturing Corp.’s Heavy Duty facility hums with activity as dozens of associates take apart, clean, inspect, weld, assemble and test engine components. In the heart of that bustling space is a 2,000-square-foot area now filled by a new assembly line dedicated to diesel engines for a new client, an over-the-road trucking company.
Although that new business is a major coup, it also posed a colossal challenge for Scot Scobee, SRC’s human resource director, as the company prepared to send those orders to the production floor starting this May. “We are going to double our engine line capacity and add about 100,000 hours in our shop,” Scobee says. “The challenge is we are, in essence, hiring the same amount of people we did all last year in two months.”
To do just that, SRC held its first hiring fair in more than a decade this past March. About 200 job seekers took part in on-the-spot interviews and tours of the facility. Some of those applicants attended hanks to employee referrals, which SRC incentivized during a dedicated push in the weeks prior.
But Scobee and leaders from other SRC Holdings Corp. divisions are thinking beyond this single recruitment drive. “If we are going to grow from a half-a-billion- to a billion-dollar company in next three to five years, which is our plan, we’ve got to bring new people into the organization,” Scobee says.
Growth is also top of mind for Jim Jones, president of JRI Holdings, which designs and manufactures industrial cleaning systems under two brands, JRI Industries Inc. and Jensen Fabricating Engineers Inc. “Probably one of the single biggest hurdles is going to be finding new employees and people to allow us to grow and expand in Springfield as much as we want,” Jones says.
Jones says that challenge has existed for some time, which lead JRI to approach the Missouri Division of Workforce Development when the company needed help finding qualified candidates about eight years ago. During that process, JRI was asked whether it would consider applicants who had recently left prison. JRI agreed, thus expanding the company’s applicant pool and helping it attract great employees. “Obviously you’ve got to be somewhat interested in people’s background, but we always understand people have made mistakes,” Jones says. “If we can find somebody who wants to work and checks out, we are committed to them, kind of almost regardless of what they’ve done in the past.
It’s not just the manufacturing sector that’s redoubling recruitment efforts. For example, if there’s a career fair happening at a local college, seeing representatives from American National* in attendance is practically guaranteed. That’s because the company takes full advantage of its proximity to regional universities to maintain a talent pipeline for its Springfield corporate center, particularly for entry-level positions. “We just have better luck in this area with the entry-level market because it is so saturated with colleges,” says Megan Trower, who leads American National’s talent management department.
American National recruits much of that talent through a dynamic paid internship program with the goal of finding positions for interns within the company after they graduate. As career development trainees, participants gain valuable experience while contributing to the company alongside current staff in key capacities, such as assisting with underwriting or working in American National’s Client Service Center.
In addition to bringing students to American National’s corporate offices, the company builds bridges to college-aged prospects by engaging in classroom spaces. Human resources staff members regularly present in courses at Evangel University, several employees teach technical courses at Ozarks Technical Community College and a University of Arkansas graduate on staff returned to his alma mater to visit with actuarial students. Coupled with the internship program and dedicated career fair attendance, this classroom presence helps students gain a better understanding of the company and the opportunities available there. “Name recognition is huge,” Trower says.
Building name recognition has also been essential for Penmac Staffing Services Inc. In recent years, more companies have been seeking Penmac’s assistance in finding qualified candidates for jobs. “We have seen an increase in companies looking at using a [staffing] service that might never have used one before because they are struggling at getting enough people in their doors to fill out applications just on their own,” Penmac President Paula Adams says.
To meet that demand and drive more job seekers to openings, Penmac has increased its marketing budget, allowing the firm to intensify time-tested strategies like online and social media marketing, as well as to utilize new tools such as mass calling and texting services. The company has also increased its advertising budget and expanded to new platforms including TV. A mobile app is also in the works to help ease communication with Penmac’s current employees and applicants about job opportunities. “We use all of the media possibilities that we can to try to reach them,” Adams says.
On top of increased marketing efforts, incentives and perks for current employees are also part of Penmac’s strategy to attract applicants. For example, those who found their current position through Penmac become eligible for a bonus when they refer a friend to Penmac and after that new person works for a set period of time. Although this bonus incentive has been available for more than a decade, Penmac increases bonus pay rates or reduces eligibility requirements during certain recruitment promotions.
Penmac also makes every effort to remove factors impeding willing people from applying to open positions, such as offering a van service for a small fee to employees who lack reliable transportation, a perk available since 1988, when founder Patti Penny bought a van and personally drove employees to work. Penmac has maintained a fleet over the years and recently added an additional van and part-time driver due to increased demand.
Connecting locals with employers is all in a day’s work at the City of Springfield’s Department of Workforce Development, which is housed in and operates the Missouri Job Center-Ozark Region. Learn about some of the department’s initiatives that are helping address the region’s pressing workforce needs.
The department launched its JET (Jobs, Education, and Training) program to provide funding to companies interested in specialized training for current staff. “This is one program where you can see some direct benefit and probably see it in a shorter period of time,” says Mary Ann Rojas, director of workforce development at the city. “If you are developing or manufacturing a product and you are having difficulty with your current workforce understanding how to build a product maybe due to new technologies, requirements or regulations, and then you are able to get that training, it’s just going to help you be more competitive.”
The need for health care professionals is striking: In the 2017 State of the Workforce Survey, health care organizations reported having more difficulty finding qualified job applicants than any other sector. But a $3 million U.S. Department of Labor grant issued to the Department of Workforce Development in partnership with Ozarks Technical Community College will help make a dent in that deficit. Known as Ozarks Promise, the grant allows 372 individuals to receive tuition-free training and certifications in occupations such as behavioral support specialists, nursing assistants and registered nurses in hopes of drawing those graduates into local health care jobs in the years to come.
The Missouri Job Center plays a major role in getting people in the Missouri Work Assistance program, the statewide program offering employment and training assistance to people receiving aid through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, workforce-ready. Based on individuals' employment plans and specific situations, participants receive training that helps them brush up on their soft skills—the lack of which is pinpointed as a hiring impediment for employers—before heading to local employers such as Mercy for several months of hands-on training. “If they see that they are a viable candidate for permanent placement, they hire them,” Rojas says. The program provides those individuals with steady jobs while helping local companies find new staff.
Inspired by Zone Blitz, launched last year to combine efforts of community partners to improve quality of life in northwest Springfield, Regions Bank approached the Department of Workforce Development to see how they could support the initiative. Realizing that employers often cited financial literacy as an impediment to workers’ productivity and job readiness, the Missouri Job Center began offering a financial basics workshop in its north Springfield location taught by Regions Bank associates. Since the workshop debuted in December 2016, dozens of participants have learned about credit scores, direct deposit, establishing checking accounts, budgeting and other topics leading to stronger financial health.
In March, Springfield ReManufacturing Corp. held a hiring fair with interviews and tours to prepare for a new production line at one of its facilities.