BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A brand marketing specialist told a group of local industrial leaders over lunch that creating a culture where employees are bragging about their jobs is a key part of filling positions.
The Lee County Economic Development Group held its annual Salute to Industry Summit Wednesday afternoon at Quality Inn and Suites in Fort Madison and brought along Souligna Stone, an entrepreneur who helps corporations overcome brand and diversity issues.
Stone told the group that the way they are doing business now will not be the same in 25-30 years and company leaders need to re-evaluate how they are branding their business to future employees.
“Growing up in the Midwest, looking at the jobs and landscape, it’s quickly changing because of digital technology,” Stone told the group.
She said technology is changing the way employers hire, recruit, and retain.
“You all know this workforce is quickly training. And one thing you should write down and remember is that these are people and people matter. It’s not just a product or not just your service, process is very important – and it’s your people,” she said.
She said there are children right now that have tremendous ideas and a lot of creativity that are bursting at the seams to show everybody what they know. She said those children are the wave of the future and who will replace the workforce.
“The way you are running your business now will change in the next 25-30 years,” Stone said. “These jobs that are right now open and vacated, that you haven’t been able to fill, there’s a different mindset with these children. More technology, more freedom, and they want autonomy.”
Stone encouraged the industrial people in the room to start thinking differently about workforce and combating the challenge of getting positions filled. Children are being told that the jobs they will have don’t exist now, so why would they train to fill these jobs.
She said preventative maintenance or having a strategy in place that utilizes communication such as quarterly meetings and employee feedback will help address the challenges of the future.
Another key factor will be finding out what employees want from their employers and get feedback to create a culture where people are talking to friends and family about how much they love their job.
Stone said only about 30% of employees are engaged at work.
“That’s a pretty low number. As managers, it’s everyone’s job to make sure we are engaging and having communication and we’re treating each other with respect,” Stone said.
She said data shows that 80% of millennials want development opportunities and 82% want recognition for their work.
“Look at the programs in your company and how are you training and developing these employees so they can grow with you. Everyone knows it’s much more expensive to hire and retrain someone than it is to keep somebody in your company.”
Stone said most companies have engagement issues with their employees and don’t have open, transparent communication with their shift workers. Budget and time management is also a hurdle, and absence of true leadership.
“Are you present and walking the warehouse and asking about their families?”
LCEDG CEO Joe Steil welcomed the group and said with the large number of manufacturing jobs in the area, industry is the defining characteristic of Lee County.
“Industry is us and we are industry, each and every one of us. Simply put, without industry we don’t prosper here,” Steil said. “This is about honoring and appreciating our industries and what that means to us, and to say thank you.”
Dana Millard, LCEDG’s marketing and communication manager, said industrial jobs in Lee County pump a quarter of a billion dollars into the county annually.
“$250 million in wages means not only are citizens able to buy a house, but make Lee County and southeast Iowa a home. It means people are able to support our local economy by eating at our restaurants, depositing in our banks, visiting our hospitals, giving back to our communities, and helping them grow,” she said.
“4,000 manufacturing jobs isn’t just a number we throw around. It’s our community, it’s our commitment to keep and grow those jobs. Not just in the number, but in the skills and wages, as well.”
Millard said one in four jobs are manufacturing jobs which means a very large group of people in Lee County are hardworking, problem-solving individuals working in state-of-the-art facilities making products used every day and that are shipped around the world.
“How cool is that?” Millard said. “Our employers encourage things like a robotics club or science fairs and other activities. They are opening their doors and speaking to our communities. That engagement is helping us grow and we want to thank you for that.”