With a particular concern for connecting youth and young adults with meaningful employment opportunities, United Way is in the midst of developing a strategy to ensure workers in that population bring a strong work ethic to their employers.
A lack of work ethic is among the top barriers individuals face in being work ready, according to feedback United Way collected from area human resources professionals and a cross sector of employers.
Two years ago, prior to seeking that feedback, the West Bend-based nonprofit organization headed community conversations with a variety of agencies and business leaders to gather input on top issues and needs in the county. Five priorities emerged: Transportation, drugs and alcohol, services for youth, employment, and financial resources. After additional consultation with community stakeholders, United Way prioritized employment as the county’s most pressing issue.
From there, the organization surveyed area human resources personnel and a variety of employers to gain insight on the top barriers to work readiness. Of all barriers considered, including lack of transportation, childcare, drug and alcohol abuse and criminal backgrounds, poor work ethic was deemed the most significant barrier.
United Way’s attention to work ethic factors into a broader county initiative carried forward by the Washington County Economic Development Corporation. The organization is concerned with ensuring that the county’s next generation workforce can adequately take over for a wave of workers on the cusp of retirement.
“We are just one initiative under a much larger initiative in our county, and it’s exciting how we’re coming together,” said Kristin Brandner, executive director of United Way of Washington County.
In forging ahead with a focus on work ethic, United Way convened an employment strategy team, composed of employers, case managers and educators, that has been meeting since last October. The team first identified 12 competencies that indicate how strong or weak an employee is in their work ethic, such as time management, punctuality and the ability to communicate effectively. The strategy team also determined that its efforts will best serve youth and young adults ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or working as well as individuals of that age group who may be in school or working part time.
Come next month, United Way will issue a request for proposal to the community, challenging area agencies to devise programming that can adequately measure individual employees’ development of work ethic competencies.
Examples of programming could involve the development of a training program or the creation of a competency portfolio for young adults, according to Brandner.
The organization will look for proposals that rely on collaboration among nonprofits, schools and other entities. Projects within proposals must also be able to be implemented in workplaces across Washington County, she said.
Collaboration has been a key theme in addressing the need for stronger work ethic throughout the county, with the Washington County Workforce Alliance stepping forward as a key partner.
The workforce alliance, which formed about two years ago, has combined the expertise of employers, educators and the county’s district administrators to address a “growing concern” among employers and economic development groups as baby boomers rapidly approach retirement and new employees are needed in their place, according to Tom Hostad, chair of the alliance.
Hostad, also executive director of the Hartford Area Development Corporation and a board member of United Way of Washington County, has stood as the link between the alliance and United Way. He echoed United Way’s concern in the work ethic of the county’s youngest employees.
“Not only are employers having difficulty hiring, but there’s a growing sense of frustration with the quality of the individual who is coming to apply for a job,” Hostad said, adding that the workforce alliance will likely assume much of the responsibility in monitoring the progress of the program proposals selected by United Way.
The nonprofit will likely fund one or two projects over a 27-month period. The organization aims to announce selected projects in August and will hold an informational meeting for interested applicants on Thursday, April 9, at Moraine Park Technical College, 700 Gould St. in Beaver Dam.
United Way of Washington County’s recent focus on workforce development is part of a new business model it has adopted – one that accentuates its role as a community problem solver and a convener tackling the root cause of community concerns.
“It’s really targeting key local issues and addressing those by getting at the root cause of those issues,” Brandner said, emphasizing that input from across the community is needed for sustainable solutions.
“That’s where you’re really going to have change,” she said.