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3 Steps to Solving a Workforce Crisis

When Danny Hearn contacted XYZ University five years ago, two daunting issues loomed over industries throughout the region of Hickory, North Carolina: how to attract and engage Millennials, and how to solve for the aging workforce crisis and talent shortage.

“Our number one business issue is attracting young people to manufacturing jobs. It’s at a crisis stage. We have 3,000 jobs that go unfilled every day. Most are really great manufacturing jobs that require smart, skilled people,” said Hearn, who is President and CEO of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce in Hickory, NC.

Hearn had read Sarah Sladek’s book, The End of Membership As We Know It, and XYZ University’s report, America’s Aging Workforce Crisis.He invited Sladek to Hickory to present to area employers and Chamber of Commerce executives from throughout the southeast.

At first, Hearn reported that some leaders were resistant to change, but as they implemented the strategies that XYZ University provided, the outcomes made a positive impact on their bottom lines.

Specifically, Hearn shared his key learnings and developments as a result of XYZ University’s guidance.

Lesson 1: Invite, engage and listen.

XYZ University suggested that leaders brought young employees, members, volunteers, and leaders to the table, and requested their feedback on specific workforce and community initiatives.

“At the Chamber, we conducted a young professionals survey that led to a successful strategy, ” Hearn explained. “For example, we discovered that the word ‘member’ didn’t resonate with young adults, and that our membership fee formula was outdated. As a result, the Chamber created a tiered structure for ‘Investors’ and ‘Shareholders’. If we hadn’t asked for their feedback, we never would have known we were alienating young people.”

Lesson 2: Millennials do not engage for the sake of tradition, but because they want valuable, life-long learning experiences.

Before the survey, the Chamber had launched a Young Professionals Group, and the leader of that group was a Baby Boomer, ex-officio, non-voting Board member. Sladek explained to Hearn this model of keeping young professionals at arms-length, under the guidance or someone else, would never work.

Today, the Chamber has literally brought young professionals to the decision-making table; at least half of the Chamber’s Board members are now under the age of 40.

In addition, the Chamber started engaging young professionals in the creation of videos about employment opportunities on The Hot Jobs Videos promote job openings for local employers, and have become wildly popular among Millennial/Gen Y audiences.

Lesson 3: Collaboration is key.

Recognizing that engaging young professionals was an urgent need for many local organizations, the Chamber reached out to area YMCAs, Rotary Clubs, and faith groups to share information, ideas, and collaboratively create strategies focused on retaining young talent in the Catawba region.

The Chamber also launched Made Magazine, an online and print publication, featuring information about advanced manufacturing and other jobs in the Catawba region.

Once known as a hub of furniture manufacturing, community leaders wanted to showcase the community and career opportunities to prospective young employees.  For its inaugural issue, advertising oversold by 33%, and 25,000 hard copies were distributed to schools, community organizations, and parents.

The Bottom Line

Now seen as a visionary leader in the community, closely aligned with young professionals and community leaders, the Chamber of Commerce has improved member retention, growing from 83% in 2011 to 92% in 2015.

Moreover, Hearn feels pride in what has been accomplished, and enthusiastic about the future of Catawba County Chamber and the Hickory region. “When I retire in 2016, I know our organization and the community will be in good hands for generations to come.”


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