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Embracing younger workers for regional, company growth

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Posted by: Bernie Dagenais on Monday, May 2, 2016 at 11:00:00 am

A half-dozen chambers of commerce from across the nation gathered within view of the White House in Washington, D.C., in March to talk about how to better employ workers under the age of 24. These workers are the future of our work force. Yet, they face high unemployment despite a tightening labor market. Many employers see skills gaps in which younger workers are far from ready to take over as baby boomers continue to leave the work force over the next 10-20 years. 

The statistics around the talent shortages are compelling. More than 90 percent of employers say our nation’s workers are ill-prepared for jobs that need to be filled. More than half say they can’t find the help they need. About 11 percent of employers say college students with bachelor’s degrees are prepared for work, compared to 90 percent of academic provosts who say students are well prepared.

The leaders of these chambers of commerce faced a basic question – should employers hire more interns and make room for more entry-level workers because it’s the right thing to do for the future of their regions and our nation or because the future of their businesses is at stake?

The answer should be yes to both reasons. It’s clear from the work of The Main Line Chamber of Commerce’s Talent and Education Network (TEN), as it participates in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation workforce initiative, that companies could do much more to ensure the future of our work force for themselves and our nation.

This should not be a hard sell. Studies show that it costs companies money to keep positions open. It’s expensive to compete for more experienced workers who will be increasingly in short supply. And some companies forego revenue because they don’t have the right people to do the related work.

On the ground, we saw part of the employment cycle this time of year as we attended college career fairs throughout the region. More than 100 students from a dozen colleges attended an employment forum we hosted at St. Joseph’s University this month. They learned insights from an employer panel and received training on communications styles, leadership and collaboration – some of the so-called soft skills that employers value most.

While some employers have developed systems that attract younger workers, put them to work and evaluate them for possible full-time hire, most companies in the region are nowhere to be found at these events. In some cases, the employers who are absent face critical skills shortages as their employees face retirement without a succession plan in place. Many simply haven’t figured out how to deal with younger workers.

Our work force can no longer afford to under-employ younger workers, particularly those who are educated and ready to contribute today. As part of a strategy that includes competing for experienced talent and promoting from within, companies would do well to make room for a strong entry level into the worker pipeline.

Many of the more than 40-plus interns and entry-level hires our program is placing with companies this year are helping to forge the way for future students and graduates. We welcome hearing from additional companies that would like to provide opportunities for the next generation of producers.

Bernard Dagenais, president and CEO, The Main Line Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at bdagenais@mlcc.org.

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