The Northland Education and Business Alliance focused on ways to improve workforce development in a recent roundtable with Clay and Platte County leaders in business and education.
During their meeting Tuesday, June 1, more than 25 area leaders met at iWerx in North Kansas City and another half dozen participated via Zoom videoconferencing. Outgoing co-chair Brian Noller opened the meeting with a series of questions that defined the more than 90-minute dialogue. Several questions related to an ongoing NEBA goal: improving communications between Northland business and education in order to help both potential workers and employers.
Several Northland chambers of commerce leaders identified a healthy string of recent and upcoming developments. These include two projects in North Kansas City expected to increase that city’s population by nearly 20% and a massive data center in Kansas City North.
Two projects involve the Clay County Economic Development Council. Executive Director David Slater cited the 587 Project to promote quality growth at the Interstate 435 and Missouri Highway 152 interchange and a future rebuilding of the Missouri Highway 92 “roller coaster.” Also nearing kickoff is construction of a replacement for the Buck O’Neil Bridge.
Other communities reported efforts at workforce development. Stacie Bratcher of the Kearney chamber cited a recent job fair that drew a great turnout by businesses.
“I thought we’d be lucky to have eight employers, and we had over 20 with a waiting list,” she said.
Less positive is a trend involving would-be or new employees who frequently lack soft skills like showing up on time for interviews, on time for work once hired and/or looking people in the eye while speaking. “Ghosting” by recently hired employees was also reported as widespread.
Several at the meeting noted the situation is likely to improve when added unemployment benefits from the pandemic reach their sunset. Others suggested employers also need to adapt to a new employment market with strategies like more flexibility for workers.
Some stressed steps to improve communications surrounding job availability. Gayle Potter of the Liberty Chamber of Commerce noted a new webpage to help communicate business opportunities, including employment. The page has already amassed 20,000 followers.
Rich Groves of the North Kansas City Business Council said their organization operates externships for teachers to learn about local employment opportunities for students. Melinda Mahaffy, Excelsior Springs Chamber of Commerce, said a critical goal for NEBA is continuing to connect educators and business. However, a major challenge is that business information must be tied to curriculum, which in many cases is outlined by local, state and federal requirements.
The meeting was the last for NEBA co-chairs Noller and Adam Jelenic. The new NEBA leaders are education co-chair Amy Washam and business co-chair Courtney Reyes. Washam is director of Northwest Missouri State University-Kansas City and Reyes serves as director of Government Affairs & Workforce for the Homebuilders Association of Greater Kansas City.