Workforce development, affordability are keys to finding good employees
Oct 19, 2017 | 2237 views | 0 0 comments | 214 214 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Talk with just about any business owner or manager around the region, and it won’t take long before a common refrain begins to emerge. Many, if not all, businesses in southern Vermont are having a difficult time finding and retaining qualified employees.

That difficulty is not for lack of trying, or for lack of available jobs. There are plenty of jobs to go around. There just aren’t very many people willing to fill them.

Why is that? What is it about this region that, even two years ago, was looking to create more jobs as a way to grow and improve the workforce?

The answers are complex and myriad, and would more than fill this page if described in detail. But one thing that constantly comes into the discussion is affordability. A big part of why there is an employee problem, especially in tourist communities, has to do with being able to afford to live in one. It’s expensive to live in a resort town. Housing costs can be excessive. Transportation costs can be high, especially if someone commutes more than 30 minutes. Wages tend to be low, although not always. Taxes, especially property taxes, can be very high, and can add hundreds of dollars to rents or mortgage payments every month.

All of these problems, and more, when tied together, become some of the big challenges to the local economy, the state, and rural economies across the country. And, while we’ve written about these problems before, they also continue to pop up in just about every conversation with leaders in business, planning, and government.

Affordability, of course, means many things to many people. To some, it’s bringing wages up. To others, it’s bringing taxes down. Affordability really has to be a mix of those things plus many more.

Another part of the equation is workforce training. That’s where the notion of “qualified” employees comes into the current dilemma. Yes, there are certainly jobs available that don’t require significant skills. But there are others that do, and that is one of the reasons for the inability to fill many positions.

The reality is many people don’t have the skills they need to be considered for a good job, where they would earn a salary that would enable them to buy a home and a car, and go on vacations, let alone invest in the future and help grow the economy.

Acquiring workplace skills means education, post-secondary education. While it may seem like a given that young adults entering the workforce need more than a high school diploma, there are many who still do not pursue college or some form of advanced training beyond high school. We get it. College is not for everyone. And a college degree doesn’t guarantee access to jobs that pay an affordable salary. But some sort of advanced training, especially in a high-demand field, is essential. Post-high school professional certification in, for example, plumbing or HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) maintenance and repair could offer good opportunities. Electricians are projected to be one of the fastest-growing middle-class jobs in the years ahead. Nurses, according to other studies, will continue to be in high demand. Sales, management, and other “people” skills will always be in demand.

Affordability is a two-way street. Yes, the factors that drive up the cost of living in rural areas like Vermont need to be addressed. But those in the workforce also need to have marketable skills. Employers need to be able to hire skilled, motivated workers. That means people looking for work must also be motivated to get the skills they need to fill those jobs.
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