Publisher’s Notebook: Labor woes affect all fields

Business, education, government must solve problem together

Labor Pains. The Labor Squeeze. The Labor Shortage. Call it what you will.
Some businesses move away because of it. Others forego expansions. Others never move here at all.
Wherever one travels along the Northern Front Range, from Boulder to Cheyenne, Fort Collins to Greeley, Longmont to Loveland, business cites the same lament: the lack of skilled workers.
For several years now, seemingly jumping from one industry to another, a chronic shortage of entry-level and skilled labor has forced businesses to make difficult decisions about staffing, expansion and relocation.
Witness the high-tech company from Fort Collins that was considering busing workers from Cheyenne, only to find that there weren’t enough skilled workers there, either.
Consider the manufacturing firm in Fort Collins that has delayed expanding its plant because there aren’t enough workers to staff it.
Take a spin through the classifieds of the Denver dailies and see the dozens of companies from throughout the region advertising a myriad high-tech, high-paying positions.
One business owner related to me how he was amazed to look back on the last couple of years and see how many of his decisions were spurred by the labor shortage.
The problem became so severe a couple of years ago that many manufacturers assembled in a labor task force to come up with possible solutions to the problem.
What they found was that there are no easy answers. Solving the labor shortage may prove less feasible than merely dealing with it. Much of the skilled-labor shortage is driven by demographics, something that’s difficult to change. Some economists are predicting that the present labor shortage will last until the year 2010 or 2020.
Yet, a problem driven by flaws in our educational system and a declining work ethic can be addressed, but only in a series of creative steps to teach skills and work habits.
Many businesses now are embracing the School to Career program, intended to prepare the future work force with the skills necessary to excel.
Others are working closely with community colleges such as Aims Community College in Greeley by relaying what “skill sets” they require in their business; higher education can then tailor courses to help foster those skills.
And some companies, such as temporary-employment agencies, are taking matters into their own hands, creating programs and training centers of their own. Some training programs in Greeley might focus on agricultural industries and skills; programs elsewhere might focus on high tech or clerical.
Job fairs are becoming as common along the Front Range as rock climbers or subdivisions.
Economic-development officials are quick to point out that this region is not alone in suffering from severe labor shortages. Indeed, virtually every part of the country faces the same situation, but each is different in how the problem manifests itself and in how it should be addressed.
The shortage of qualified labor is not unique to the Northern Front Range. But our solutions have to be.Christopher Wood can be reached at (970) 221-5400, (970) 356-1683, (800) 440-3506 or via e-mail at cwood@ncbr.com. His fax number is (970) 221-5432.