Springfield’s Missouri Job Center hosts roundtable about lack of youth involvement in workforce

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 7:57 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - One of the biggest challenges is the workforce shortage.

More and more people between the ages of 18-and-24 are choosing not to get traditional 9-to-5 jobs.

The problem is so prevalent that the Missouri Job Center in Springfield hosted a roundtable discussion on Wednesday where around 40 Springfield-area employers talked about their shared experiences.

So, what was the overriding message that emerged when hiring and retaining young workers these days?

“We’re all frustrated,” answered Jesse Lovelady, the Human Resources Manager for Momma Jean’s Natural Market and Deli.

Many different types of businesses, schools, and government agencies were in attendance, so those frustrations were wide-ranging, starting with younger-aged job seekers failing to show up for interviews or not understanding the interview process.

“We run into applicants who don’t know how to leave a voicemail or how to shake a hand,” said Megan Herzog, the Executive Director of the Springfield Contractors Association.

“Many of them don’t know how to dress when you do an interview or how to speak and make eye contact,” added Gail Maize, the HR Director for the Hy-Vee supermarket company. “They need to understand the value of what they bring to the table and be able to communicate that to us.”

Job Center staff members who organized the meeting took note of the problems.

“We’re going to do more mock interviews and job shadowing,” said Kim Paige, a Workforce Development Specialist with the Job Center. “And we’re going to make sure that when we’re working on resumes, we’re going to pull from their life experiences. That was a very key thing we got from today. We also want to work on managing anxiety with our young people. So many of them, because of the barriers they have, tend to deal with a lot of anxiety, and we need to teach them how to manage that on the job.”

Another recurring theme was a lack of basic work skills.

“I just assumed that people would know how to sweep a floor and understand the process of seeing trash that needed to be taken out,” Lovelady said. “But we’re finding those are actually skills that we’re having to set very explicit expectations of what that looks like. I can’t just say, ‘You need to wipe down the counter.’ You have to show them the process to go through to wipe down the counter, sweep the floor, and take out the trash.”

“We also see that their response when you say, ‘This is how we do something’ is ‘I know!’” Maize said. “But they don’t know. So it is teaching them from step one how to do something.”

The roundtable discussion also brought up that there were problems with feelings of entitlement as one employer said that after a 90-day training period, he’s had young employees wonder why they weren’t moved up to supervisor yet. Another employer pointed out that too many young employees are only worried about “how much money will I get on Friday” as opposed to benefit possibilities like insurance and retirement.

Another problem mentioned quite often during the discussion was a lack of communication and social skills, which was blamed on the younger generation’s constant use of social media.

“Social media can be good and bad, and for today’s students, that’s all they’ve known,” said Spokane School District Advisor Tracey Blaue. “They’ve had a cell phone since they were five years old. That’s their communication method now rather than actually sitting down and having a conversation with someone. That has now created the inability for them to communicate, and it transfers over to not being able to be successful at an interview or anything else related to the workplace.”

“Communication is extremely important in customer service,” Maize added. “I tell everybody that customer service is involved in every job you’re ever going to have. When I was a teacher, my students and their parents were my customers. I just think in any job you ever have, if you’re good at customer service, you are going to be successful.”

Nationwide, some 72 percent of 18-24 year-olds are considering changing careers. The traditional model of the 9-to-5 job is an option they’re increasingly turning away from in favor of opportunities that involve self-employment or working from home with more flexible schedules.

“COVID started that trend, and I think a lot of society has just hung on to that as being the norm,” Blaue said. “A lot of people, including myself, would like to work from home. But there are so many jobs where you must go to the business to do the work.”

As much as they bemoaned the inability to get the younger demographic involved in the traditional job market, the employers also understood that they were also responsible for making changes that will inspire the 18-24 group to want to be a part of the workforce. Suggestions for attracting that demographic included reaching out to them in high school or earlier with career-path options and helping those with financial, transportation, or other limitations reach their goals.

They also pointed out that different generations have different ways of looking at the workforce. However, concerns about inadequate compensation, uncaring leadership, and a lack of career development and advancement play a part in job dissatisfaction no matter what the age.

But the times they are a changing, and maybe the younger generation will be the ones to lead us into a time when four-day work weeks, working from home, or everybody getting rich off their own TikTok videos are the norm.

“I just knew I needed to show up and work,” Lovelady said of the job scene a generation ago. “There wasn’t an alternative. So, the onus was on me as an employee to do what I needed to do. But now I think the onus has changed to the employer. The employer needs to support these young people to engage, retain, and build a really strong workforce.”

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