Article submitted by Jamie Fleury, The Pilot News Staff Writer
MARSHALL COUNTY — Laura Walls, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Marshall County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC) updated the County Council on workforce development during the regular meeting in May. She brought with her Lorna Shively, Business Consultant for Fulton, Kosciusko, and Marshall County WorkOne to present the February 2022 Labor Market Review to shed light on some of the challenges facing employers to find employees.
Walls updated the council that workforce is the first topic of conversation when she meets with companies. Shively said, “Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you want to look at it, Marshall County is at 2.1% unemployment rate. Which is historically low.”
According to Shively, the Federal Government considers full employment at 5%. With other states at similar unemployment rates Shively said, “It begs the question where are we going to find the people?”
She informed the council on the causes for a situation where “we are so desperate for people”. The pandemic accelerated the situation, but Shively said there is more to it than that. Retirement, termed the “Great Resignation”, of people in their fifties and sixties have opted to retire early. “Investments have done well since the recession of 2011. That made a mass exodus of able bodies.”
School closures, even with a two parent household, forced families to consider the professional future and long term goals. Those who managed to live off one income created more exodus.
She also noted that family sizes are now smaller. “You don’t have this influx of new bodies coming in to the work force.”
The dynamic of the workforce has shifted from teenage part time staff to a new dynamic of adult laborers.
She said that the workforce will need to be sought in “non-traditional places” including the re-entry population. “We are going to have to be more open minded about hiring folks that have had something happen in their background. They made a bad choice. We are going to have to look at training them.”
Partnerships with automation cannot be avoided. Employers are shifting to the use of Cobots which partner with human workforce. Walls added that Oasis has automated some of the “hardest, dirtiest jobs in their process”. She said the facility is clean, a challenge for Fiberglass.
Shively refuted that machines will take the place of human employees. Rather than replacing human employees, the workforce needs opportunities to “skill up” so that they can trouble shoot, program and repair the machines. “It’s just a different dynamic and we’re going to have to shift our thinking to that.”
She advocated for more academic partnerships noting Jennifer Felke as the new Career and Technical Education (CTE) Director with the North Central CTE Cooperative. “She has really hit the ground running.” WorkOne is already working closely with Felke to meet employer needs.
WorkOne offers the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) Program within area schools. The program is designed to prepare those students who are planning to enter directly in to the workforce upon graduation. Not all students are on a traditional college pathway and are seeking opportunities in the employment sector.
She said those partnerships must also continue with Adult Education noting that there is funding available for training including but not limited to Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and Commercial Drivers License (CDL) training.
Walls highlighted the celebratory groundbreaking of Plymouth Industrial Development Corporation’s (PIDCO) new building to be leased by Plymouth Molding Group (PMG). According to Walls, PMG had outgrown their current facility accommodations. They searched options in Fulton County and Michigan. MCEDC mediated. PMG is remaining in Marshall County and will be adding ten new employees upon completion of the building. Walls anticipates completion of that project by the end of 2022.
She updated the county that the Plymouth Common Council held their final hearing to approve the tax abatement for Renew by Anderson. They are building on Miller Drive and will be bringing 85 new jobs to Plymouth and Marshall County.
She added, “Divert is continuing the build out and getting ready to launch operations in the new Plymouth Manufacturing Center.
READI Grant preparations are still moving forward. The Troyer Group has been engaged to facilitate preparation and the application process. “The South Bend Elkhart Regional Partnership and the Regional Development Authority have not entered in to an agreement yet with the state so details are still being ironed out.” As soon as the agreement is signed and ratified, Walls and her team are ready to communicate and move forward.
After speaking with Human Resource Managers and Business Owners, Shively emphasized that individuals want to feel valued. They want professional development training and to feel that their voice is heard when decisions are being made that impact them. “People want to feel valued at the end of the day.” When people feel valued loyalty increases.
Shively noted that Marshall County has an “extremely low” crime rate which is appealing. “We really need to tout that this is a quality place to live and it’s a safe place to live.”
Shively is confident that with the training initiatives available in Marshall County the existing workforce can be trained to meet the need for skilled laborers, make the employees feel valued, and enable them to access solid earning potential right here in Marshall County.