Grunke: Workforce shortage focus of MEP study

Missoula businesses, we hear you. You’ve been telling us that we have a workforce shortage, and we want to provide solutions.

The statistics certainly bear out your concerns. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Missoula’s unemployment rate was 3.4 percent in April 2017, a full percentage point below the national average of 4.4 percent.

Yet we also consistently hear from local workers that “there are no good jobs in Missoula.” And we want to understand and respond to those concerns as well.

So where’s the disconnect?

I wrote about Missoula’s no-good-jobs myth last October, and the reality that our community has an abundance of highly educated, but underemployed, workers.

These job-seekers don’t realize that they possess the very skills an equally abundant group of employers are seeking.

Missoula businesses want workers trained to learn. They want workers with broad interests who can solve problems and communicate those solutions to others, who are valued members of any team and engaged in our community.

But these key competencies are only part of the workforce equation.

That’s why the Missoula Economic Partnership has embarked upon a comprehensive study of Missoula’s workforce. A strong workforce is the lynchpin of an economically healthy and competitive community.

And businesses, we need your participation.

Thomas P. Miller & Associates, the consulting group we’ve contracted to conduct the study, has laid out an extensive plan to identify and address Missoula’s workforce issues.

So far we’ve conducted 25 to 30 one-on-one interviews, assembled three focus groups to collect ideas and insights, and now we’re conducting an in-depth survey of area employers. The study will also involve an analysis of available workforce training and identification of any gaps, an on-site planning session to refine strategic priorities for workforce development, and a formal state of the workforce report.

We’ve assembled a core committee of stakeholders, and are ready to begin the workforce development survey. The goal is to get a grasp on the skills employers truly need in their workers.

Therein lies the call to action for Missoula businesses: Participate in our survey. Tell us what’s working for you and what isn’t. Then we can tailor our proposed strategies to your actual experiences and needs.

We have an abundance of research and real-world success stories to draw upon in designing Missoula’s workforce strategy.

Janet Ady, of Ady Advantage, is one such source. Her blueprint for designing a successful workforce strategy includes these steps:

  • Identify the “talent” issue that we’re looking to address — in this case, a shortage of workforce to fill specific types of skilled positions.
  • Determine the root of the issue, such as housing, training, transportation or lack of population. In Missoula, one area we’re looking to dig into is the gap between employer needs and workforce training. Missoula’s workforce is highly educated and has access to a plethora of training programs, so where’s the gap?
  • Once potential programs have been identified, we’ll need to align those programs with strategic goals.
  • As Janet Ady says: “A successful talent program is one that has metrics, milestones and good reporting. It is not important to know every detail of the program. But every program should be able to clearly answer two questions: ‘What does success look like?’ and ‘How will I know if the program is succeeding or failing?’ ”
  • Once programs are in place, we’ll need to periodically review their efficacy.

We’re at an exciting juncture in Missoula’s workforce development history, and need the participation of everyone in our community to create the best possible plan.

We hope you’ll join us. Our collective future depends on it.

James Grunke is president and chief executive officer of the Missoula Economic Partnership. He writes a monthly column for the local media.