Community must address workforce

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 26, 2009

It’s easy for us all to fuss about the need for more jobs in our community. It’s become almost a rite of passage when elections roll around.

Line up five potential office seekers and chances are pretty good that at least three of them will say that generating jobs is one of the top priorities.

But rather than blaming the current office holders or even the economic developers charged with wooing new industry and growing what we already have, perhaps we should be a bit more introspective and look critically at our community.

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Who would a new business coming here hire? Is our job pool rich with good workers — either skilled or unskilled who are willing and able to learn?

Increasingly the answer to that question — when we’re truly honest with ourselves — is no. We don’t have the workforce that’s capable, at least not yet.

Yes, we’ve all preached about the need to improve education in our communities. Ultimately, it should be our top priority. However, some of what our local workforce — particularly its newest members — need doesn’t have anything to do with standardized test score.

The ability to communicate well, looking a customer in the eye and treating him like, well, a customer, are among the top needs. Also on the workforce wish list is the ability to get along well with co-workers, resolve conflicts and understand how to communicate and listen to those in authority.

None of those are impossible tasks to accomplish, but they must receive the attention of the whole community, not just those in education, if we seek to turn the incapable workforce of today into tomorrow’s economic development successes.