Already a subscriber? Log in
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 26 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
Local companies leading the way in workforce innovation were honored Sept. 21 during an awards ceremony and luncheon presented by Kirkwood Community College and the Corridor Business Journal at The Hotel at Kirkwood. The majority of the Kirkwood workforce innovation program was dedicated to a panel discussion featuring representatives of leading local employers, who responded to questions from audience members on a number of workforce innovation topics. Kirkwood workforce innovation panelists included Caleb Mason, economic development manager for the City of Cedar Rapids; Erica Bellach, director of marketing for Thompson Truck & Trailer; Broderick Binns, diversity and inclusion coordinator for GreenState Credit Union; and Ashley Ferguson, learning and development manager for TrueNorth Companies. Amy Lasack, executive director of continuing education and training services at Kirkwood, moderated the discussion. Here’s a lightly edited sample of some of the questions and answers presented by panelists at the Kirkwood workforce innovation event: Erica, you've recently implemented a year-long leadership program for your managers. Tell us about that and about the decision-making process for this type of investment, since some companies are reluctant to invest in someone who may leave their company. Ms. Bellach: Thompson recently began a comprehensive training program for all of our department managers across six different locations. One day every month, we all get together in person in one room and cover a wide range of topics, including best practices all the way down to Thompson's specific policies and procedures. Of course, in discussions the fear came up – what if we make this investment of all this time and money and resources in these people and they leave? But the hard truth is that there's a risk of people leaving whether you train them or not. And ultimately, for us, it came down to the fact that we can't afford not to do this training. We believe that by investing in the growth and development of our current leaders, we'll see that positivity trickle out to our employees and our customers. We've already seen that happening. And once we decided to move forward with a training program, (Kirkwood Corporate Training program manager) Barb (Rawson) and the whole team at Kirkwood made it so easy. We got to pick from a catalog and choose the topics and instructors that really fit our business model. That’s a big piece of it, too – choosing topics that our leaders can apply in their day to day. Ashley, if you could choose one thing that employers can do to focus on creating a more positive and engaging work environment, what would that be? Ms. Ferguson: Put an emphasis on, and don’t underestimate, the importance of psychological safety in creating a sense of belonging. Everyone's eager to get people up to speed, which is important. But we need to make sure we’re slowing down and doing that in a way that fosters belonging that'll help you build a relationship with a colleague, which will help with future retention. If they know that they matter and know that you care, that's going to have an exponential positive impact. So, psychological safety. Caleb, with the availability of high-compensation technical jobs outside of the city and the state, what are some things that we can do to attract and retain employees to work with local companies? Mr. Mason: We've got consultants helping us with our economic development and strategic planning. They happen to be out of Austin, Texas, and they've got so many workers down there, we said, why don't (we) just come in and grab people and bring them back to Cedar Rapids? To me, I think one of the biggest things we could be doing here is through the quality of life. If you could work from anywhere you want to, what would make you want to live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? I think it's the amenities. It's how you spend your time outside of work. So focusing a lot of attention and time and money into initiatives that make Cedar Rapids a place that people want to move. Whether they have to (move) for a job or not, they're willing to come here. The state of Iowa has put a lot of money into tourism, because there's a philosophy out there that says you're not going to move to a place that you haven’t visited at least once. So what's that hook that we can give to people, that one factor where we could spend more time and energy? Broderick, can you share how data impacts your work with DE&I initiatives at GreenState? Mr. Binns: I think it's important that you are honest about the data that you have, through your surveys and things like that. You can tell, I’m a former student athlete, with my wide neck, my long arms, my broad shoulders. So growing up, all I did was eat. It was all about protein. I had to be big, I had to be strong, I had to be fast, and that came with eating. Probably from sixth grade to 12th grade, I would eat six times a day, three meals and three snacks. Clearly, that's my past life. I'm no longer an athlete, even though I like to think I am. So there came a point in time in my life where I was getting a little heavy. And I had to step on the scale. And that number – oh, my gosh, I was not happy with it at all. It was like 40 pounds over my playing weight. So that's what that is for your company, right? It’s a hard look in the face. You gotta be real. I was 40 pounds overweight. Didn’t like it. So what do I have to do? Change my habits. When we talk about D&I, we talk about using data, and that’s what it is. It's a hard look in the face, and you have to change your habits from there. Award recipients recognized at the Workforce innovation event at Kirkwood, and their awards, included:
- Iowa New Jobs Training (260E) Program Award – BAE Systems
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Workforce Innovation – Greenstate Credit Union
- Distinguished Education Partner Award – Thompson Truck and Trailer
- Distinguished Education Partner Award – Wendling Quarries
- Distinguished Education Partner Award – Virginia Gay Hospital
- Innovative Training Partner Award – Worley Warehousing
- Innovative Training Partner Award – JRS Pharma
- Growing your Own Leaders Award – TrueNorth Companies
- Industry 4.0 Award – Collins Aerospace
- Adapting to New Workplaces Award – MediRevv
- Creating Gender Equity Award – City of Iowa City
- Workforce Investment Award – City of Cedar Rapids
- Innovative Workforce Solutions Award – Frontier Co-op