Ready, Set, Jump


Sometimes when I am in a conversation, I feel as if I must get a “running start” when I want to explain a complicated topic. What this means is, I want to prepare the listener to understand the context of what I’m about to say, so that it doesn’t seem odd or opaque, or worse, irrelevant.

Workforce development is, to many small businesses, both odd and opaque.  Employers have a natural inclination to believe that the people they hire are smart and competent.  They feel that, as business people, their job is business, not social engineering, and they aren’t really interested in the “softer” side of the employment equation. It’s the nuts and bolts of making and selling things that get them up in the morning.

Besides, hiring and training can be a confusing puzzle, from understanding what a position’s competencies are, to knowing how that person adds distinct value to the manufacturing process. And don’t even talk about redeployment of staff into different positions based on lean or quality initiatives, especially if you have Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in the same workplace.

My mother used to say that one has to prep to prepare, because many tasks are difficult and you’ll need to prepare yourself to understand what you are going to do and why you are doing it.

The Ohio MEP through the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET) located in Cleveland, Ohio is helping small manufacturers prepare to deal with the human capital side of their businesses. In partnership with Lorain County Community College, and funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, MAGNET is providing mini-workshops on talent planning that include understanding workforce issues and overcoming their challenges.  They are beta-testing them now, and are offering two half-day workshops covering topics such as where to find skilled workers, understanding what kinds of skills and competencies new hires will need to be valuable members of the business, how workforce decisions should align with business goals, and determining a good fit between an employee and their potential employer.

Participating businesses send a team of employees to the workshops that may include Human Resources, Operations, Business Development and technical positions.  The intent is to help the businesses understand the crucial aspects of “workforce development” and to solve the challenges as one would solve any business issue – with thoughtful analysis, problem-solving activities, and iterative discussions that help point the groups toward common understandings and solutions.

Although the workshops are still being hammered out, they exhibit potential for helping small firms truly understand what it means when talking about workforce development, and how to make the conversations less opaque to people who don’t think of themselves as people persons, per se. I am excited about this course, having observed participants showing up even in a snowstorm. That is a pretty good testament to its value to business.

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Stacey Wagner

Guest blogger Stacey Jarrett Wagner has more than 20 years of experience in workforce development, conducting research and providing strategic thinking and technical assistance on workforce development issues.

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