Admitting the Baby is Ugly

February 27, 2023Doug Peters, President & CEO of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce

I have a good friend who once shared with me that it’s easy to overlook a problem when one denies that it exists. He went on to share that it takes a lot of courage to put your head in a baby carriage and admit that the baby is ugly. And workforce, no matter where you are in this country, is unmistakably one ugly baby.

Workforce challenges continue to take central focus among the Chamber and its community development divisions. And it isn’t unique to the Chamber. Many of our partners are laser-focused on the same issue.

There is no shortage of work to do when it comes to tackling the workforce puzzle for our community. Studies worldwide point to a variety of workforce-related factors that are impacting economic growth, creating a perfect storm for many of our member investors.

From low birth rates to a post-pandemic new reality, childcare challenges, and an aging workforce, all of these factors and more point to a seemingly unwieldy challenge. And the challenge isn’t unique to Abilene. Available, skilled workforce remains a top focus of many employers all across the country.

And it’s a challenge that incessant meetings won’t solve. This challenge takes steady action, by all of us, to resolve.

The Chamber and its Growth Alliance (AIF) wish to thank the scores of employers and resource providers who have come together to help.

The Growth Alliance, as part of its 2022 LEADAbi effort, has developed a multi-point approach in its own role in helping. The seven initiatives outlined in the plan include:

  • Developing the workforce pipeline and helping companies find employees locally utilizing seamless technologies and programs.
    • You already know the Chamber has many programs in place such as Abilene Young Professionals, Best Workplaces, IntroABI (learn more about this initiative set to start this year!) and Leadership Abilene. These programs are pieces of the overall workforce puzzle that our community needs for success. Ensuring that this sector of the overall puzzle is working well and providing value to our employers is key to our success in workforce development.
  • Enhancing and promoting the AbileneWorks job board.
    • We’ve had this tool in place for a few years, but now it’s time to narrow our focus to discovering the barriers businesses in our community face when seeking talent in the digital realm. As discovered through recent focus groups, the upcoming zoomers are even more digitally focused than millennials. Your Chamber is committed to helping our small business owners bridge that gap to meet the future talent they need for success at whatever platforms are thrown our way.
  • Identifying, developing, and connecting local business and education partnerships.
    • In the coming months, you can anticipate a focus on internship programs connecting our local Universities to the business community. If this interests your business, I encourage you to reach out to our team today.
  • Organizing and managing a task force to increase the availability of quality childcare in the area.
    • Recently we partnered with the Community Foundation of Abilene and the Development Corporation of Abilene to provide them with focus group attendees in the young professional and business community sector. They’ve contracted with a national company to get to the root of our childcare challenge with recommended action steps. We look forward to seeing the results and how your Chamber can play a role in the childcare solution.
  • Launching a locally-focused talent attraction program that retains existing workers as well as brings new workers and their families to Abilene.
    • This is in the works, and we’re excited to unveil it over the next few months. However, we need your help. If you or someone you know has a unique story that ties them to industry or our community and loves the Big Country, please consider reaching out to our team to become and Abilene Ambassador.
  • Promoting Abilene job opportunities, locally and across the region, to exiting military personnel, including guard and reserves, utilizing resources like SkillBridge.
    • SkillBridge has been a useful tool to many of our local businesses and with the Big Country region being veteran-friendly, we hope more businesses are able to capitalize on the program funded exclusively by the DoD. To learn more about how you can utilize this program, click here.
  • Working with regional transportation providers on solutions for employers to get employees to and from work.
    • Among the focus groups we’ve had in the last few weeks, we’ve learned that transportation is a common barrier employees face when trying to access employers. We’re committed to working with partners across the community to help reduce this barrier for your talent.

None of these efforts provide a silver bullet resolution, but collectively, over time and in partnership with our schools, area workforce assistance providers, employers and so many more, we will prevail as a community.

We have to. Risking the interests of our regional economy based on hope won’t cut it.  It will take all of us, working together over time, to not only face the challenge but to work through it.


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