The skilled labor crisis is hitting companies across the manufacturing industry and beyond, but smart business owners are not complaining—they are working to create pipelines for future talent. For Timber Products Company, our work includes connecting with experts in other industries impacted by the lack of highly skilled individuals applying to roles being left by retiring Baby Boomers.
Through the Rogue Workforce Partnership, an organization funded through a state grant to get businesses, education and public services to work together, we are building relationships to help grow the local economy. One of Rogue Workforce’s accomplishments has been a Business Education Partnership aiming to connect today’s students with future careers.
“We’re exploring how to create career pathways for kids to earn a living doing what they’re wired for,” says John Underwood, Timber Products’ Southern Oregon Region Human Resources Manager.
“The reality is probably 30 percent of kids who go to high school will actually go to college,” Underwood says. “We feel our education system is teaching kids how to be students instead of how to be who they are wired to be and have great careers doing that."
Rogue Workforce is working to inform students that there are options beyond college that can lead to incredibly rewarding careers. “The hard part is finding how to connect what a student wants to do with what they’re learning in high school and with the jobs that are actually out there and the skills that businesses actually need when hiring,” Underwood says.
The program has gotten attention. For starters, other Timber Products manufacturing branches are watching the work being done by Rogue Workforce and exploring their own ways to get communities involved in creating a defined vocational training track for today’s high school students.
This work has also gotten attention at the statewide level, as it attracted the interest of Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who visited the wood products company in the spring.
“Gov. Brown wanted to see if she could take what’s happening here and scale it out to other regions in the state,” Underwood explains.
Among the solutions that caught the governor’s attention was Timber Products’ Leadership University. It’s a one-year training program aimed at developing future leaders. Applicants are hired as management trainees and spend two months in each of the business’ six segments. “They learn our entire business from beginning to end, and at the end of the year, we promote them into a line leadership role,” Underwood says.
Since launching the program in 2012, Timber Products has developed a number of the leaders serving the company today.
There is no single solution to the skilled labor issue, but by working together as a community, solutions can be found.
As Underwood puts it, “That’s what we’re working on: trying to break down the silos, getting people talking and working toward good, practical solutions.”