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Addressing the workforce shortage

I have attended numerous meetings in our region where employers have shared the difficulty in finding employees to work. Similar conversations are taking place all across the state and country as well. While we may not be alone in this issue, we cannot accept it. It seems natural that employers look to Fulton-Montgomery Community College to help solve this problem; community colleges have long been involved in developing the workforce. 

The challenge with this workforce shortage is its breadth. It is not limited to one industry. That is, we are not trying to solve the lack of machinists in the region. In fact, EVERY industry and business is struggling to find employees. Whether they are looking for healthcare workers, engineers, cooks, factory employees, accountants, technicians, plumbers, construction workers or any field – finding good employees is difficult. 

Yahoo Finance recently published a graphic and a statement that right now, it takes the longest time in over a decade to fill an open position with an average of 31 days (up from 23 in 2006). Many look to educational institutions for help, others criticize them saying that education “does not teach the right skills for people to be employed.” At FM, we redesign our career programs regularly (every 3 – 5 years) based on significant input from local employers. We pride ourselves on assuring that FM’s programs are current with the needs of employers. While we can always do better, I am not convinced that the accusation against higher education is founded in real data. 

It seems that there are numerous problems to be addressed with this issue; none of them easy.  We need to recognize that our local population has diminished over the past decades and even last few years. We have to figure out how to attract people to our region who want to live and work in our community. That means we need jobs that pay well enough to attract people (we do). And, we need to have communities that offer an attractive balance of work life and recreational activities to attract people, couples and families to our area. 

We need to address those on social services and provide incentives for those who are able to work to do so. This will require policy changes. Instead of eliminating assistance for those who find full-time work, we need to provide a graduated structure. For example, a single mother who goes to work should continue to receive support for childcare. If they cannot afford childcare when they are working, they won’t go. 

We need to address the drug problem in the region (like all regions). The opioid epidemic is everywhere; we are not immune here. We need real programs to address this issue. 

We need to become a community that will welcome people who don’t look like us or may not have the same customs as we do. It is highly likely that people who move to our area from other parts of the state, country or world will be different than those who grew up in Johnstown or Mayfield. That’s OK. We must welcome them and make them feel a part of our community. 

We can overcome this challenge if we all work together. We can fill the jobs that are available in our communities and grow our region’s population in a positive way.

Dustin Swanger is president of FM.

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