Workforce Development Comes Home

By Tim Waldo, CIS Workforce Development Specialist

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Home is where the heart is. We seldom think of this old adage when it comes to developing a workforce. But we should because we all know that home life comes to work with us. While we are at work, we think about the communities we live in, the houses where our family resides and certainly our children.

These topics as well as healthcare for our loved ones and education are great motivators for workers. They can inspire employees to stay and do their best or possibly to seek employment elsewhere if their family’s needs are going unmet. Employers are gradually beginning to recognize that developing a great workforce – and sustaining that force – includes helping team members ensure that they can take care of their families.

One such employer is Tyson Foods. Earlier this year the Arkansas-based company announced that they are going to build their third Tennessee facility by 2020. The new complex will be in Humboldt, where they expect to hire upwards of 1,500 workers in the processing plant, the hatchery and the feed mill. With multiple facilities in thirty states, Tyson does more than just food production. According to their website, “We believe food is more than sustenance, it’s a vehicle for good. As we continue to grow, we’re embracing our responsibility to drive positive change, solve problems, and make the world a little better every day.”

Driven by this commitment, Tyson awarded the UT Center For Industrial Services (UT CIS) a grant to help coordinate research into two important aspects of employees’ home life – child care and affordable housing. The research will focus on identifying ways that Tyson and community stakeholders can work together to increase available housing and childcare options for the citizens in Gibson and surrounding counties.

Over the last decade or so, employer-supported childcare and affordable housing have both been gaining traction with companies. Google and CVS, Chick Fil A and others have instituted some form of support for one or both areas. What makes this effort with Tyson different is its focus on blue-collar workers in rural areas. The majority of the initiatives have been aimed at white-collar workers in high-priced urban areas.

Tennessee manufacturers and the communities they support must shift their thinking on workforce development to a more holistic view. UT CIS understands this and, in partnering with Tyson on this initiative, expects to take the lessons learned and the solutions identified to other rural areas of the state. Such initiatives are important for Tennessee to retain its leadership in manufacturing.

Children will eventually grow into our next generation of workers. High quality childcare can be key to beginning this process. Katharine B. Stevens, in a report for the U.S. Chamber Foundation stated, “Done right, childcare provides a powerful two-generation approach to building the skilled workforce on which our country’s continued prosperity depends.” For the immediate future, Stevens also points out that, “Almost 13 million Americans in their prime working years have children under age 6. Many of these parents need reliable childcare to be able to upgrade their skills through education, enter the workforce, and remain employed.”

According to various research, the cost of housing has steadily increased to the point where families can spend as much as 30 percent or more of their income on this one need. In rural areas the availability and quality of housing has complicated the challenge. The stress that comes from worries about housing causes multiple issues for families. According to Enterprise Community Partners, “High housing costs leave low-income families with little left over for other important expenses, leading to difficult budget trade-offs. Affordable housing increases the amount that families can put toward other important household needs and savings for the future.”

At its best, workforce development encompasses more than just training and hiring people. Community leaders working with businesses and with other key stakeholders can develop the right environment for a workforce to thrive, both inside and outside the workplace. Collectively we can provide great jobs, safe, affordable housing and great educational options for the hard working people who make Tennessee a great place to call home.