Growth highlights workforce needs

Sunday, October 08, 2017

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Joe Sutter

It’s a time of growth in the Fort Dodge region.

But according to the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, as companies keep growing here, they’re challenged to find skilled workers to do the jobs they need.

That’s why, especially during this national Manufacturing Month, the region’s workforce is of such interest to manufacturers and industry leaders, according to Kelly Halsted, GFDGA economic development director.

“Workforce is one of the biggest challenges and obstacles to growth for manufacturers,” Halsted said.

Facing that challenge means finding enough workers with the right skills.

“There’s a middle-skills gap,” said Sara Messerly, operations manager for IowaWORKS. “There are a lot of jobs out there that require some type of skill level after high school — some type of post-high school education. We have more jobs available than we have workers to meet those skills.”

Wages in the region are pretty much equal to average wages in Iowa, Halsted said.

That data is from the September 2017 Fort Dodge & Webster County Laborshed Analysis. Its data helps groups understand what people would need to persuade them to come here and work, she said.

“It discussed why people change jobs, and job satisfaction was overwhelmingly the highest,” Halsted said.

“We want to make sure companies create a culture that wants, or has people who want, to come back to work every day, and have the right skills. … Keeping the workforce here. Keeping them in the job rather than them moving around in our community or outside our community.”

Without sufficient workforce, companies can’t grow. That could ultimately be bad news for people who already have jobs here, Halsted said.

“Manufacturing tends to have a lot of good-paying jobs with good benefits, and right now our area is lucky because most of our companies are either going very strong right now or a lot of them are even expanding,” Messerly said.

If they can’t bring in the people they need, they could consider relocating.

“That’s always a risk. They could leave if they do not get enough help if they are expanding,” Messerly said.

“Companies have the ability to manufacture anywhere,” Halsted said. “They need to have a reason to manufacture here in the community, whether it’s access to resources or access to skilled labor.”

For example, New Zealand-based Argenta came to Fort Dodge because of the skilled workforce here, Halsted said, not just because they could purchase the old Riverside building.

“We had a skilled labor force in the animal health industry,” she said. “Yeah, we had a great asset with the building, but we also had a skilled labor force in the industry that is important for them to be successful right away.”

The Laborshed Analysis is a crucial tool in understanding the pros and cons of the existing workforce.

Just like a watershed is an area of streams that all flow down into one lake or river, so a laborshed is a report that focuses on where workers will come from to fulfill jobs in Fort Dodge and Webster County.

The study is done every other year through Iowa Workforce Development, Halsted said.

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