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It is no secret many employers across different industries are finding it difficult to find the employees they need to operate and grow their business. One way companies are addressing the challenge is through relationships with area nonprofits, especially with organizations skilled in reaching communities some businesses have struggled to tap into in the past.
“I think everyone is starting to get more and more creative on how to fill those gaps,” said Eric Wynn, general manager at J.H. Findorff & Son.
As part of its Nonprofit Excellence Awards program earlier this month, BizTimes Media held two panel discussions focused on workforce development that works. The event was sponsored by Wegner CPAs.
The first panel focused on organizations primarily serving high school students and featured Jeremy Joecks, director of partner services at GPS Education Partners; Mark Farrell, executive director of talent delivery at Froedtert Health; Jim Johnston, vice president of operations at Bradley Corp.; and Amy Leahy, director of corporate work study at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Milwaukee.
The second panel focused on programs primarily helping young adults and featured Bill Caraher, chief information officer and director of operations at von Briesen & Roper s.c.; Blanca Gonzales, executive director of i.c. stars Milwaukee; Karen Higgins, executive director of Milwaukee Christian Center; and Wynn.
Farrell said the health care industry has known it would face workforce challenges as baby boomers retired, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated those issues as the mental and physical toll of the work pushes employees out of the industry.
“It’s really a challenge because now we’re also competing with other industries where we never thought that was going to happen. Because of the pandemic, we’ve had a large number of individuals who’ve said, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be in health care right now, maybe I want to try something different,’” Farrell said.
One way to address Froedtert’s workforce needs into the future is working with Cristo Rey, which requires all of its high school students to participate in a work-study program. Farrell said some students are able to work in the clinical setting, helping with patient transport, discharges and even the pharmacy, while others work in the administrative setting, including human resources.
“You get to know the students, and you get to talk with them a little bit about what they want to do and where they want to go, and you see them grow throughout the year. Usually, they come in really shy and quiet and then as the year goes along, they’re talking with you and engaging,” Farrell said.
Leahy said partner retention is an important measure of success for Cristo Rey.
“Taking high school students in the workplace is no small feat. It’s a commitment,” she said, noting around 85% of partners return each year.
Joecks said partner retention is important at GPSEd, too. The organization hosts education centers at manufacturers where students spend time on both academics and a youth apprenticeship.
He added that the hire rate is also an important measure to track.
“When a company like Bradley invests in our program, one of the reasons they do it is they want to have a future workforce come out of the program, they want to be able to hire as many as possible,” Joecks said, adding around 60% of students are eventually hired on with the company they apprentice at.
Johnston said it can be challenging to attract people to manufacturing, especially as every industry struggles for talent, but added it can be fun to just talk with students.
“I think the most important thing … is just get to know them first,” Johnston said. “Don’t talk about your company, don’t bring them in there and overwhelm them with details.”
When it comes to young adults, i.c. stars and Milwaukee Christian Center are helping the people in their programs develop the skills needed to enter the workforce. The former provides training in technology while the latter exposes people to construction trades.
“The key here is opportunity,” Higgins said.
She explained that many program participants start out feeling “demoralized” about their prospects, and MCC works to “instill a culture that gets them to begin to believe.”
i.c. stars partners with local employers on its training, but Gonzales said the hiring process can still exclude people who develop their skills in non-traditional ways. She said she understands applications are filtered to simplify the process, but employers looking to expand their pool of talent need to be intentional.
“Think about all the talent that sits out there because they don’t have a college degree,” she said.
“We coach our people as much as we can, but we need the HR process to be more friendly,” Higgins added.
Wynn, a board member at MCC, said Findorff does not want a degree to be a barrier to employment and is focusing on finding individuals with a passion for the industry.
“We can teach them the rest once we get them in house,” he said.