Not just in Indiana, but across the U.S., workforce readiness is a strong topic of debate. We debate about the quality of jobs. We debate the amount of wages paid. We debate about the quality of services we receive. And the list actually goes on and on.

But the question is how the workers prepared for their jobs in the companies are? Where does workforce preparation begin? In school? At home? During on-the-job training programs? Who is supposed to be responsible? Where does common sense come into the play? Yes, these are all very delicate and sensitive subjects.

As a mother of two young children, one of which is a 4 year old, and the other, well, he is just learning to crawl, so he can’t be part of the equation quite yet, my husband and I feel it is our responsibility to instill a strong value in her of work ethic. How do we do that with a 4 year old you might ask?

For us it is small things such as pick up your toys when you are done playing with them and before you make it look like Santa’s workshop in the middle of the living room. When you have a snack, please throw away your snack paper or juice box.

Placing value in building a foundation while children are young will help them thrive through adolescence and into adulthood as they enter the job market. Other small aspects of life we embrace are arriving on time for her school days and appointments and not wearing pajamas to go shopping.

You might be wondering where I am going with all of this, other than my soapbox. I am simply saying that by beginning at a younger age it is easier to instill patterns of behavior in our future workforce to make them more employable and attractive in the job market. Some of the aspects I will be discussing are workforce readiness and entry level workers.

Workforce readiness means being able to deliver value in frontline jobs and entry level positions in a timely manner. This is the key to linking the individual and business success to transform local economies into successful economies so that small businesses, which employ most of the workforce, have the opportunity to grow and thrive. This also helps create value in relationships between the employee and the company owner. Valued relationships allows employees to feel as they belong and are part of the company and ultimately they will increase productivity and give back.

Typically a vision for workforce readiness is about having a platform of individual worker success, business innovation and enhanced customer value. The benefit to the community is that this increases the quality of life and place, so more activities for younger families, more small business growth, firms between 1 and 99 employees, more parks and trails, as well as eateries and retailers.

In Huntington County, a major insurance company left Roanoke, and many downtown buildings were vacated. The transition that occurred became a trend and local eateries and antique shops began filling the vacant building fronts. People returned home from Chicago to start a business or retired from their current career and opted for antiques as their second career in retirement. This created jobs, quality of place and a destination for tourism as well for the community. 

Many communities want to assure excellence and inspire innovation through entry-level workers and inspiring/believing in them through those relationships previously mentioned is a wonderful starting place. Simple standards, open dialogue and communication about roles/responsibilities will establish respect between the company owner and the employee and implement quality assessments for improvements along the way as well.

Now you may ask yourself, what are entry-level jobs? This is a common question. Entry-level jobs are defined as non-supervisory, non-managerial, non-professional positions. These may be unskilled positions, or they may be skilled positions for which the required job-specific skills can be learned while on the job.

As I think about how communities grow and focus on quality of life, a recent article I read comes to mind. There are more than 15,000 economic development corporations in the U.S. trying to attract large companies that employ more than 100 people. There are only 200 companies annually looking to find a new home among those 15,000 economic development corporations. Do the math. As we prepare our youth for workforce readiness and work with existing adults to hone their skills, consider exploring what our small businesses need with 1 and 99 employees and help them grow, as that is where the majority of a community’s growth is derived, and it directly impacts a community’s quality of place.

Heather Strohm is community development regional educator for the Southwest Region of Purdue University Extension. She can be reached at strohmh@purdue.edu.

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