By Jasmine Almoayed and Chad Simmons / Guest Editorial
During a recent luncheon, a Rotarian asked the mayor of Cedar Rapids, Ron Corbett, what he believed to be one of most significant concerns the region would face over the next 10 years.
Mr. Corbett said developing a skilled workforce that would meet our future labor demands will be one of our biggest challenges. Mr. Corbett is not alone in his concerns. Many large employers like Rockwell Collins, ACT, Transamerica and Alliant Energy have been dealing with workforce recruiting and retention challenges for years.
On Oct. 17, the Employee Resources Group Consortium (ERGC) will be holding their second annual Diversity Forum from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids. The forum will feature business and workforce leaders discussing how employee resource groups can improve employer’s recruitment and retention of underrepresent communities in our region.
The ERGC held its first forum in June 2012 to gather data from a broad scope of employers across the Creative Corridor. The forum targeted millennials, African Americans, Latinos and new hires and helped provide feedback that would shape programming created by organizations like Diversity Focus.
Employee resource groups (also known as affinity groups, or business networking groups) are assemblages of employees who join together in their workplace based on shared characteristics or life experiences. ERGs have traditionally been based around race, ethnicity and gender, but over the past few decades have expanded to include sexual orientation, persons with disabilities, veterans and “interest-based” groups. The main functions of the groups have included recruitment and retention of talent by improving company culture through personal and professional development.
The ERGC was a concept created by Oather Taylor and Andrew Almoayed from Alliant Energy in 2011. Both hold technical roles at the company and became involved with Alliant’s Multicultural Network. They shared a concern about Alliant’s ability to attract more technical professionals from outside of Iowa.
“After Andrew and I crafted a set of improvement concepts, we thought there would be a benefit in reaching out to ERGs from area companies and organizations to share and solicit ideas,” says Oather Taylor, director of infrastructure security and facility services.
Representatives from various workforce and economic development organizations were hearing similar concerns from businesses regarding their inability to attract and retain talent. This shared concern about a qualified workforce is what caused a group of employers to form the ERGC.
The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, Iowa City Area Development Group and Kirkwood Community College have all identified the Creative Corridor’s low unemployment, aging population and millennial “brain drain” as being threats to the region. According to a recent study of Iowa’s Creative Corridor, the seven-county Kirkwood region shows that between 2002-2012, the number of 30-44 year olds (considered the core of the workforce) dropped by almost 4,000, a 4.4 percent decrease. Compounding these issues, 66 percent of Iowa’s unemployed and underemployed have no recognized educational credentials past high school. In Iowa’s Creative Corridor, of the 4,000+ unemployed and underemployed served through Iowa Workforce Development, 86 percent do not have college degrees, with 10 percent in need of their high school equivalency degree and another 46 percent of these people lacking digital and computer literacy skills. Additionally, those aged 45-64 increased by over 23,000 or 25.5 percent, meaning we will be facing significant retirements over the next several years.
Unfortunately, according to Diversity Focus’ Creative Corridor Community Survey, concerns regarding discrimination have increased from 21 percent in 2008 to 26 percent in 2013 in Linn and Johnson counties. According to the survey, employment discrimination is the No. 1 diversity and inclusion concern for residents in the region. Without a robust recruiting and retention strategy that welcomes high-skilled talent from outside the state, we will have more jobs than people to fill them. This also impacts our ability to recruit new businesses that are increasingly choosing site locations based on the availability of local talent.
On Oct. 17, we will hear from several business and community leaders about what these data mean to the region and we will look at ways to reverse these trends. The key to solving this puzzle will be a shared effort and we hope to see many of you there.
Jasmine Almoayed, economic development liaison, city of Cedar Rapids
Chad Simmons, executive director, Diversity Focus