Closing the Workforce Gap: How Economic Developers Can Address Shortages in the Job Market

Closing the Workforce Gap: How Economic Developers Can Address Shortages in the Job Market Main Photo

23 Oct 2023

News, Workforce

The modern job market is evolving rapidly, driven by technological advancements, shifting demographics, and changing economic landscapes. As a result, many regions across the globe are facing significant shortages in the workforce, posing challenges to economic growth and development. However, with the right strategies and initiatives, economic developers can play a vital role in addressing these shortages and bridging the workforce gap.

The Impact of Technological Advancements

One of the primary reasons for the workforce gap is the rapid advancement of technology. Automation and artificial intelligence have revolutionized various industries, decreasing demand for specific jobs while creating new opportunities in emerging sectors. Consequently, there is a mismatch between the skills possessed by the existing workforce and the skills required by the evolving job market. To address this issue, economic developers must focus on promoting lifelong learning and upskilling initiatives.

Collaboration Between Education Institutions and Industry Leaders

Investing in education and training programs is essential to equip the workforce with the skills needed to thrive in the current job market. Collaboration between educational institutions, industry leaders, and economic development organizations is crucial in identifying the emerging skills in demand. By aligning educational curricula with industry needs, economic developers can ensure that workers are equipped with the right skills, making them more employable and adaptable to technological changes.

For example, Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation continues to blaze the way for workforce development in McKinley County with its innovative Greater Gallup Industrial Workforce Program, a no-cost 10-week upskilling program involving classroom and hands-on construction training that leads to placement into an internship, pre-apprenticeship program, or a long-term job or career in the trades. This rapid-response training that prepares workers for specific in-demand jobs is the first program in the area that is 100% industry-led. GGEDC and its education partner worked with industry leaders to tailor the program to meet local industrial workforce needs.

Attracting and Retaining Talent

Another factor contributing to the workforce gap is demographic shifts, particularly the aging population. As older workers retire, experience and knowledge are significantly lost, leading to skill shortages in various industries. Economic developers can tackle this challenge by implementing strategies to attract and retain talent, particularly among younger generations.

In Carlsbad, NM, the Department of Development has followed the research regarding the benefits of job fairs for workforce development. In pursuing workforce development initiatives for its region, the Carlsbad Department of Development takes a multi-layered approach to career fairs, mixing attendance and hosting. Job fair objectives range from targeting a specific population to generalized and even include industry expos.

Creating a Favorable Business Environment

Creating a favorable business environment is crucial for attracting young professionals and skilled workers to a region. This involves offering competitive salaries, opportunities for career advancement, and cultivating a vibrant community with amenities and cultural attractions. Moreover, economic developers can collaborate with local universities and colleges to establish internship programs, apprenticeships, and co-op initiatives that provide students with real-world experience and encourage them to stay in the area after graduation.

In rural Nebraska, York County Development Corporation is focused on workforce development so that its local companies have a steady stream of talent to hire from. Locally, they benefit from the presence of York University, but in many situations, employers can hire students right out of high school. To facilitate these relationships, YCDC works with local employers and York area schools to host Manufacturing Day events and career fairs. The organization also works with its partners to create and promote internship opportunities.

Fostering Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Additionally, economic developers should focus on fostering entrepreneurship and innovation within their communities. Start-ups and small businesses are often significant sources of job creation. By offering resources, such as incubators, mentorship programs, and access to funding, economic developers can support the growth of these enterprises and attract entrepreneurial talent to their regions. This not only creates job opportunities but also enhances the overall economic ecosystem.

For example, many of Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives are in rural communities that have recognized the need to drive small business development. That focus has led to several existing and planned business incubators. Great River Energy has promoted these as a sound economic development strategy for its communities, often assisting its members with resources like the USDA Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant Program to fund these projects.

Proactive Talent Retention Strategies

Addressing the workforce gap also requires a proactive approach to talent retention. Economic developers should collaborate with local businesses to understand workforce needs and develop strategies to retain skilled employees. This can include providing support for work-life balance, creating a vibrant and inclusive workplace culture, and offering continuous training and development opportunities. By prioritizing employee well-being and career growth, businesses are more likely to retain their top talent, minimizing the need for constant recruitment.

Targeting Underrepresented Groups

Furthermore, economic developers should consider targeting underrepresented groups to fill the workforce gap. Women, people with disabilities, and minority communities often face barriers to employment and are underrepresented in many industries. By implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives, providing mentorship programs, and addressing systemic barriers, economic developers can tap into this talent pool, fostering a more inclusive and equitable workforce.

Collaboration and Coordination Among Stakeholders

Lastly, collaboration between different stakeholders is essential in addressing the workforce gap. Economic developers should work closely with employers, educational institutions, government agencies, and community organizations to develop comprehensive strategies and initiatives. By pooling resources, sharing knowledge, and coordinating efforts, these stakeholders can maximize their impact and create a coordinated approach to workforce development.