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Engaging Existing Resources to Address Workforce Shortage

The compliance staff of NATM interacts with a variety of trailer manufacturers daily, whether it be in person during an onsite compliance consultation or simply providing information on the phone or via email. These members span the nation, from Alaska to Florida, and include companies with just a few employees that are often family businesses, to the largest manufacturers in the industry. It is striking, however, how almost every manufacturer, regardless of location and size, communicates to NATM they are all having the same problem: workforce.

The bad news is that this is a pervasive issue that is detrimentally impacting all manufacturing industries across the nation. The good news is that there are a multitude of resources available

to assist companies looking to respond to the challenge. There are resources at several different levels, including federal, state, regional, county, community, plus support from the nonprofit, and educational sectors. These resources vary widely from grants to programs with local technical schools, from job posting assistance to automation assistance.

It can be very confusing and frustrating trying to navigate all of the resources, understanding which are useful and which are not, and understanding the various levels and locations. But, the good news is, you don’t have to! Most, if not all, of these resources are run, or at least supported, by your tax dollars and thus exist for you and your company. Therefore, your only task is to find the department, employee, or even organization that has the capacity and motivation to become your advocate and engage with you.

Their job, as supported by your tax dollars, is to know about all of these resources and narrow down the multitude of options into a manageable group of prospective resources. Then, they can help you with grant proposals, introductions to other groups, nonprofits, etc. and continue to be your intermediary or program manager throughout the process.

Before you start the process, be prepared to show how you can benefit the organization with which you are planning to engage. If this is a local community college, demonstrate how a pipeline will guarantee a specific number of jobs to their students per year. When contacting a city as a resource, be prepared with the number of local citizens employed by your company. Also, note if you pay an above-average salary for your area. Even your utility usage or tax contributions can be helpful. Do not be surprised if you are placed into a grading rubric to demonstrate your value to the community using these and other factors. Most of these organizations are held accountable by taxpayers or boards. These organizations are more likely to assist you – and at a higher level of engagement – if you can prove that your success can result in a demonstrable win to their stakeholders.

Where do you engage? Simple; start as local as possible and work your way up. Your city or community economic development department is a great place to start. Be careful though as workforce development is a subset of economic development, and economic development is a subset of community development. Any of these departments could be available in your community. If one of these does not exist locally or their support is nonexistent, try a local chamber of commerce. Still no luck? Move up. Search for any economic development officials at the county level or if there are any nonprofits in your area that you can reach out to for engagement. Still no luck? Move on to regional organizations or even your state’s economic development or department of commerce. Keep in mind though that the smaller your business, the less demonstrable impact you will have as the organization’s coverage grows wider which can create additional hurdles, hence the notion of starting local. Still, these larger organizations exist to serve you and are worth engaging.

How do you engage? A simple google search, such as “[your community name] economic development” will get you started. Most organizations will have a strong internet presence to be as effective as possible in recruitment. Give them a call, shoot them an email, drop by their office unannounced, whatever works to get the contact started is the proper method. Each individual and organization is different. Some may answer emails immediately. Other groups may not have an office and thus work from home, making contact difficult at first. If you are having trouble, ask other businesses in your area, whether manufacturing or not, if they have had any contact or experience. You can call the general number for the organization, such as the city office or helpline, and ask for the appropriate contact information.

Bottom line: you shouldn’t need to do all the work yourself. Let someone else who is an expert in the field and is employed specifically to help you do the work for you. Be prepared to search for the right individual or organization, be ready to demonstrate the mutual benefit derived from such a partnership, and you should be successful in your workforce support endeavor.

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