AEDC maintains critical role in talent development

ATHENS, TX: The fourth and final goal of AEDC’s comprehensive strategic plan, developed in conjunction with TIP Strategies, is talent development, to make Athens a destination for technical training.

According to TIP, nurturing, retaining and attracting talent is a fundamental need for the long-term economic vitality of any community. Much of this is due to the changing needs of U.S. employers as the economy transitions from labor-intensive manufacturing and assembly to technology-intensive advanced manufacturing. More importantly, shifting demographic patterns are changing the way employers evaluate areas they are considering for possible relocation or expansion.

A year ago, the shortage of skilled labor was ranked as the No. 1 challenge for site selection and economic development, according to Site Selection Group’s Top 10 Site Selection and Economic Development Trends. Available skilled labor was becoming the new incentive for businesses.

Today, talent is still a top concern for corporations and economic developers, according to Development Counsellors International (DCI). The issues of talent availability, quality and skill set are changing the way companies and their consultants approach work force analysis. Economic developers have to be more innovative than ever to address growing talent concerns.

John Karras of Atlas Integrated and formerly with TIP Strategies said, “once upon a time, the migration of talent was driven almost exclusively by company location decisions. A new manufacturing plant opened and workers followed to fill the jobs. Then, there was a shift in the dynamic relationship between companies and workers. Instead of making corporate location decisions based primarily on business factors, the availability of skilled workers rose to the top of the list. Companies started making location decisions based on where they could access available, or trainable, workers.”

Nearly two years ago, AEDC began an initiative aimed at creating a regional technical training center in Athens that would help create an additional pipeline for local talent.

After surveying local employers to identify their workforce needs, AEDC, Trinity Valley Community College, seven area school districts, and Workforce Solutions East Texas came to the table to discuss the demands of the local workforce.

As part of the next step in this process, in late 2017, AEDC purchased a 10,000-plus square foot building in Athens to use as the potential training center. This facility could be utilized as a training center for local employers to send their employees and new hires for certifications and necessary skills training, in addition to providing a facility area high schools, namely those that are unable to offer the full career technical education program, could use for CTE classes. Another potential use discussed was the need for a computer lab that could be used for testing services, including food handler service training.

In addition, having a successful technical training center, that offers training in high demand occupations, could improve Athens’ rankings in company site selection.

When FutureMatrix Interventional needed additional space a few years ago, AEDC was able to relocate equipment, now owned by AEDC and acquired through a Texas Workforce Commission grant, to Athens High School. That equipment is now being used to provide hands-on training for students in the manufacturing engineering technology (MET) program.

Raising awareness and connecting local businesses, workers and students will be critical in the development of current and future workforce.

Tracey Hyatt Bosman, managing director at Biggins Lacy Shapiro, said in a recent podcast that there is the question of what labor companies will need in the future. “This is becoming more difficult because the world is changing very quickly, technology is changing very quickly, and it’s harder and harder for companies to foresee the type of talent they will need. They’re beginning to look more at skill sets and general competencies than specific titles.”

Last fall, HVAC Manufacturing approached AEDC about getting the area schools involved in a regional build-off competition. The build-off would encourage students to collaborate on a project that would showcase their talents and skill sets. Through this process, students would be introduced to a local company, and it would give HVAC an opportunity to identify potential future employees.

Earlier this week, Dr. Ray Perryman said in his weekly column that the lower the unemployment rate reaches, the harder it is for companies to locate workers. He suggests part of the solution to too-low unemployment is workforce training to better match skills to job requirements. Innovative approaches to retain individuals in the workforce or attract those on the sidelines can also help.

Just last month, AEDC worked with Stephen F. Austin State University, University of North Texas, and Southern Arkansas University to host the Applied Skills Competition, at The Texan. Students had an opportunity to interview a local company to hear first-hand about the workforce issues the company faces. Students did their own research and presented their solutions on ‘how to attract young talent in rural East Texas and managing expectations to help retain that talent’ to a panel of judges.

In recent years, AEDC has partnered with Texas Workforce Commission and Workforce Solutions East Texas to host training events and seminars.

Texas Workforce Commission, in collaboration with AEDC, hosted the Texas Business Conference Employment Law update for the first time in Athens, which reached maximum capacity. Many business professionals from local and surrounding communities attended the one-day seminar, which provided valuable information for employers and business owners concerning the legal issues associated with operating a business in Texas, plus learning about state and federal employment laws. The conference was geared toward small business owners, human resource managers, payroll managers, and anyone responsible for the hiring and managing of employees.

Federal grant funds, accessed through Workforce Solutions East Texas, resulted in a partnership between Workforce Solutions, AEDC and three local employers to train dislocated workers with the skills local manufacturing companies needed. The training provided 12 weeks/320 hours paid training, including workman’s compensation. In addition, AEDC partners with Workforce Solutions East Texas each year to host an annual job fair in Athens, providing an opportunity to connect local employers to job seekers.

AEDC also assists companies looking to expand or relocate by identifying available training grants through local and state resources, such as the skills development fund, among others.

AEDC continues to work with these key players on the important initiative of talent development. These evolving partnerships and initiatives have, and will continue to have, a significant impact in Athens, Henderson County and adjacent counties as Athens becomes the future hub for technical training in East Texas.