Building a work-ready community

Michael Boyd

Economic prosperity in the Crossroads region relies on one factor: the strength of the workforce. Any business, to remain competitive and grow, must be able to attract and keep qualified employees. Economic developers, in their quest to attract new business to our area, point to the quality of the local work force as the deciding factor for companies seeking to build new plants.

As Hagerstown Community College President Jim Klauber recently pointed out in his address to faculty and staff, “Everyone (i.e. economic development professionals) offers tax incentives and cheap land for site development. That’s a given. The community that wins the bid is the one whose workforce is prepared and ready for work.”

According to Paul Frey, president and CEO of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, “Today’s business environment is highly competitive. Technology is changing every industry and those changes require a workforce that can adapt, quickly and efficiently. Recruitment, proper placement and retention of employees are the keys to economic viability, growth and stability. Our members need a workforce that is not only adequate for today, but capable of stepping into the jobs of the future.”

What then, are the benefits of creating a work-ready community? First is maintaining an economic competitive edge. Existing companies seek growth by adding new products, expanding their capacity or adding more locations. A well-prepared workforce is essential in maintaining that competitive edge.

In addition to competitiveness, efficiency is essential to corporate success. A well rounded and well prepared community workforce makes the task of selecting and placing the right person for each job easier, thus reducing turnover. Lower turnover and proper job placement also reduces training costs and helps newly hired workers get up to speed faster. Money saved by shortening training time can be used in more productive ways.

In addition, companies in work-ready communities have higher wage growth, lower involuntary terminations and a reduction in workers’ compensation claims. In short, better working conditions and more economic stability.

In Washington County, as in most communities, there are three distinct segments of the workforce. To become a work-ready community, each segment must be assessed and, if needed, provided with the education and or remediation necessary for each student or employee to realize their maximum potential. They are:

The emerging workforce — college students; high school juniors, seniors, or recent grads

The current workforce — currently employed by public, private or nonprofit organizations; currently employed in government

The transitioning workforce — currently unemployed; GED or adult education participant; current or recent active duty military.

Educators at the high school and college level, employers and supporting agencies, such as chambers of commerce, together can provide the support necessary to help those in each segment make the transformation into a work-ready community.

For example, Hagerstown Community College is leading the initiative for Washington County to become an ACT Work-Ready Community. With the support of Washington County Public Schools, the chamber of commerce and agencies such as Washington County government, The Greater Hagerstown Committee, Washington County Free Library and others, HCC has begun to provide the training and access to the assessment tools necessary to benchmark our starting point and establish the timeline for achieving our goals.

A vibrant local economy is essential to our community. The economic future is full of promise and challenges. Success is never guaranteed. By creating a workforce prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead, we will increase our chances to succeed.

Michael Boyd is the program manager for Business and Workforce Development at Hagerstown Community College. He can be reached at md