As Nevada claims the distinction of having the highest private sector job growth in the country, according to the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR), decision makers are focusing on how the Silver State can best respond to workforce needs in an ever changing and diverse economy.
“The economy is diversifying based on the economic development goals set by the governor in 2011. The changing landscape has brought an increase in aerospace and defense, manufacturing, clean energy and healthcare along with renewed health in mining and hospitality. We need to concentrate on workforce development in those industries,” said Frank Woodbeck, executive director of the Nevada College Collaborative (NCC).
With unemployment trickling down to a seasonally adjusted 6.7 percent in September, Nevadans can feel some confidence that the economy is continuing to improve. Preparing for this improvement, however, involves not only providing for growth in numbers, but also growth in diversity.
“There’s a pretty wide variety of businesses moving here. We’ve seen growth in light manufacturing, technology and financial services,” said Bart Patterson, president of Nevada State College (NSC).
As high profile companies like Tesla roll into Nevada, some economic movers and shakers have expressed concerns that the state’s workforce isn’t up to snuff to fill the thousands of jobs that will be available. “Manufacturing has changed to become more automated and cleaner as it uses more technology; So the workforce has had to change from hands-on to be more technologically advanced,” Woodbeck explained. “We started talking with Switch about their IT needs. They have critical systems and are looking for people to manage their HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems.”
According to Don Soderberg, director of DETR, as the overall economy changes, the workforce also evolves. “With regard to the workforce itself, we experienced a period of rapid change in business structure, market preference and service delivery during those few years of the recession. Many fields of employment that were considered very good in 2007 no longer exist. The recovering job market looks dramatically different. Required skills are different, hiring methods are different and employer and job seeker expectations are different. Many people who were thriving “in the old days” now need different skills to take advantage of this recovery,” he added.
Role of Education
Having identified specific skill sets as lacking in the state’s workforce, many business and community leaders have looked to education as the long pole in the tent that can bring about those needed improvements. Woodbeck said that at NCC they are trying to align curricula specifically to the needs of industry. Patterson added that beefing up education in general is also important. “Improving K-12 will benefit business. Although there are mixed feelings about increased taxes, there are long-term benefits to business,” he said.
Collaboration, in all its creative forms, is springing up across the state as business and education leaders combine resources to meet this new challenge. Woodbeck enthusiastically describes the Learn & Earn Advanced Career Pathway Manufacturing (LEAPman) program, a partnering effort of leaders from government, industry and education. This program will provide skilled manufacturing workers, at various certificated levels, by educating students beginning in high school along a career highway that offers off and on ramps through advanced college degrees. “It provides a visual to a career beginning in high school,” Woodbeck explained.
Individual businesses are also reaching out to education with offers of internships and opportunities for specific training. “We’re working with community colleges to provide supply-side training by forming partnerships with them,” said Tod Yazdi, principal of Tagg Logistics in Reno. Celebrating more than five years in Northern Nevada, Tagg recently added 153,000 square feet to its operations which provide third-party e-commerce fulfillment, retail distribution and logistics to middle-market healthcare and consumer products companies.
Soderberg agreed that workforce development needs to be a broad-based combined effort. “In the past, we have looked at the workforce development equation from only one side: what can we train an individual to do that will get them a good job? Today, we need to look at the equation from both sides: what does the individual need and what does the Nevada economy need? That is why we are working more closely with the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) and the Department of Education to fine tune all of our efforts,” he said.
Patterson described a number of specific endeavors that NSC is undertaking to keep abreast of evolving needs in workforce development. “We’re building the largest nursing program in the state with partnerships with two-year colleges. We can use each other’s strengths,” he said. “We need to expand our teacher prep program and we’re focusing on skills assessment and building an entrepreneur program that will stimulate small business development.”
With so much buzz about the struggling education system, it would be easy to assume that Nevada’s workforce is inferior across the board. The picture is much rosier than that, however, as some businesses say the state has a ready supply of trained workers for them. “Nevada is our best place to find qualified individuals. It’s our favorite market for recruiting,” Yazdi said. He compared the Nevada job market with those in Missouri and Pennsylvania where Tagg also has facilities. He says a lot of workers in Nevada have backgrounds in the service industry which make them a good fit for his company. On the other hand, workers in Missouri and Pennsylvania are more likely to come from a manufacturing background which involves a different work mentality. “We’re selling a service. Quite a few of our employees come from Amazon,” he explained.
Operating from a world-class facility with 1,000 employees in Henderson, Marc Heitzman, Barclaycard director-Henderson site lead, said he couldn’t be happier with his work situation. “We’ve had a great deal of success in attracting and keeping good candidates. We provide a career rather than just a job,” he said. Heitzman added the company’s location in the Valley has been a big advantage in recruiting. “Folks that apply with us come with experience and a successful level of education,” he said. Despite the fact that the company is looking for specific skill sets and higher level employees, it seems to be able to find workers that match their requirements. Boasting 300 years in financial services, the company offers fiscal solutions to customers through Barclays Capital, Barclays Wealth, Barclays Commercial and ABSA in addition to Barclaycard.
Although the characteristics of the workforce are changing to meet the specific needs of business, they are also transforming with respect to the type of individuals who are now entering the job market. The millennial generation is different from prior generations based upon the society and culture in which they grew up. Generally, they are more computer savvy and more direct about what they think and believe. Because Yazdi’s company relies on state-of-the-art technology to get the job done, he says his younger workforce is a better fit for the work flow. “It’s a positive in our industry. The younger generation has the ability to work better in a scanning environment,” he said. “Flexibility is important since people are rotated to different positions every day.”
Millennials also bring their own attitudes and expectations to the world of work. “This generation of employees is much more global in viewpoint, more socially responsible, but not as loyal in the workplace. The biggest issue is that many of them expect to move up very quickly. They want to be heard right away,” Patterson said. “Quality of life issues and flex time may be more important than other incentives. They are also more focused on being creative.”
Like it or not, employers have had to shape their hiring practices in consideration of the type of potential workers in the market place and of the changing needs in the economy. Although specific skill sets and degrees are important, most businesses say that personal characteristics and basic life skills are just as important because they put a lot of weight on how the potential employee will fit into their culture. Maintaining continuity is a high priority. “We’re focused on folks who have a positive attitude and stable work record,” Heitzman said. “There’s an emphasis on having people feel good about the organization.” Barclaycard incentivizes its workforce with a bevy of amenities along with an overall attitude of teamwork and cooperation. Heitzman said 100 percent of the employees have participated in community outreach as part of their association with the company. “It’s a great place to work,” he added.
Awareness of the characteristics of the younger generation helps businesses to respond more effectively when seeking to hire. “Profit sharing is one of the biggies and bonuses are important,” Woodbeck said. He also emphasized that Millennials are looking for entrepreneurial opportunities, flexible work hours and ways to become creatively involved. Businesses need to understand that loyalty isn’t high on the list for most Millennials.
“Companies changed hands and went out of business. Retirement disappeared [during the recession]. They’ve seen this so their mindset is to fend for themselves,” Woodbeck said.
When asked what Nevada needs to do to improve its workforce development, Soderberg said the state is already on the right track.
“The good news is, we are already doing it. The governor’s vision of a ‘New Nevada’ starts with the preparation of our young people to have the basic skills necessary to compete in today’s work environment. The renewed emphasis on career technical education (CTE) in our high schools increases the numbers of job-ready candidates, regardless of the field of their CTE program. These students are more trainable and more adaptable. NSHE’s emphasis on job certificate training has been an important factor in this effort. The ability to change curriculum based on the needs of the economy is paying dividends. This is where we take a work-ready individual and fine tune his or her skills.
“At DETR, we help those who may not be work-ready or have had longer periods of unemployment due to the recession get where they need to be in order to enjoy the benefits of the recovering economy. The job market is very different today than it was prior to the recession so we help people get to where they need to be,” he said.
Woodbeck is very optimistic about the economic future of Nevada, and agreed with Soderberg that the state is responding to the challenges in very productive ways. “Nevada is positioned extremely well. We’re starting a new game with Switch and Tesla. We can be on the leading edge of a lot of industries and we’re poised to exploit changes,” Woodbeck said. “Five years from now we’ll have a well-educated diverse population that can service the industries that come to the state.”