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First in a series of stories reprinted from the Spring 2018 Inclusion magazine highlight the inclusiveness of the Cedar Valley.

WATERLOO – The present and future Cedar Valley workforce is a coat of many colors. All employers have to do is put it on to make the local economy shine.

That workforce, still largely untapped, isn’t going to look, sound or act like the workforce of the past.

That workforce is right here in the Cedar Valley. It’s made up of people of all colors, cultures, experiences, traditions and social backgrounds.

It’s not only a future workforce. It’s a current, and future, customer base. Customers dying for the goods and services everyone in the community enjoys. In short, a population that also wants the Cedar Valley to be a great place to live, work and raise a family.

The goal is “economic inclusion,” and that’s the goal of a task force of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, the task force is accumulating ideas and practices from a number of employers near and far and assembling an “economic inclusion toolkit” employers can use to find, recruit and hire workers, and consequently, cultivate a larger customer base.

It’s included on the GCVAC website. It’s has a “soft” opening, Alliance official Lisa Skubal said, and it is going to be promoted and launched in earnest to Alliance members and the community at large now — this spring.

“We’ve talked about how can we help businesses and other organizations that want to be more inclusive,” said Jean Trainor, former president of Veridian Credit Union, who’s been working with the Alliance to promote inclusion and diversity for about six years.

“It’s critical,” Trainor said. “We started really focusing on the workforce shortage. Economic inclusion is the right thing to do. It’s good business. And with the workforce shortage, more businesses and organizations are paying attention to that. Because they’re not finding the workforce they need.”

The workforce is shrinking, and it’s a generational trend, Skubal said. “It’s not exclusive to the Cedar Valley or the state of Iowa. It’s a trend seen nationwide. As you have (baby) boomers retire — and that was a big population — employers are not able to replace as quickly a generation that’s retiring.”

It requires a comprehensive effort of businesses, organizations, schools and economic development groups, Skubal said. “We’re doing something about it here in the Cedar Valley area. What the economic inclusion group is doing is so important because we have a segment of labor that’s untapped out there,” which includes immigrant and refugee populations and an under-employed indigent workforce. Many of them locally already are reaching out to those groups.

“There’s good case examples of businesses, both public and private, that are doing that,” Skubal said. “So the purpose of the Economic Inclusion Toolkit is to share those best practices by those businesses and organizations so they can create that type of inclusion practice within their own company and solve some of their talent shortages as well.”

“What we believe is everyone should be able to participate in the economy … whether it’s employers or employees or customers,” Trainor said. “For Iowa, particularly, it’s probably a little bit more of a challenge because we don’t have the population growth other areas have.

“Our population growth is typically our immigrant population. That’s why it’s important we welcome everyone that wants to come to Iowa and have them participate in the economy here.”

For example, Trainor said, local school districts have students coming from as many as 60 different languages and dialects. “It’s amazing. It’s a big asset, but it presents some challenges as well. So we need to learn how to do it.”

Finding employees

One of the Cedar Valley’s leading practitioners of economic inclusion is Kyle Roed, previously senior human resources manager at Omega Cabinets in Waterloo, who recently moved to a similar position just down Airline Highway at CPM-Roskamp.

He helped institute inclusive practices at Omega.

“We started doing this about two years ago,” he said. “We were struggling to find people, and to get people to stay. What we realized was there was a lot of people who aren’t working simply because they have a barrier to work.

“We had an opportunity to work with the chamber (GCVAC) to identify what demographic groups are not actively working. The minority unemployment rate is much higher than the average unemployment rate. We targeted some of those groups. The other was parents who can’t work because of day care issues.”

An additional barrier was workers who don’t speak English as a primary language, Roed said. Working with the GCVAC economic inclusion committee, “we stared translating documents … that would bridge the gap for new hires.” The local EMBARC group also was helpful in that regard.

Hawkeye Community College’s English language learners training also greatly helped, Roed said — not just for learning English but “learning the language of manufacturing,” preparing those students for the work force.

Another barrier was transportation, Roed said. If workers didn’t have transportation, they couldn’t work to afford their own transportation. Omega partnered with The Loop, a local transportation service operated by Barb Saffold, to help new workers with initial transportation expenses, and to also encourage car pooling.

It was a good investment, Roed said. Omega currently employs about 1,000 people. Of those, 75 percent are white and non-Latino; 16 percent are African-American; 5.5 percent are Hispanic Latino; 2 percent are Asian and 2 percent are of Pacific Islander background. The company also put an emphasis on hiring military veterans, he noted, another under-utilized part of the workforce.

The local refugee immigrant population, particularly Burmese and Congolese, is a largely untapped local workforce, Roed said.

Developing flexible hours to accommodate a part-time work force and providing employment opportunities for disabled or special-needs workers is important.

Child care

Another challenge is child care, Roed said. “That one is a big one. It’s more of a community challenge,” he said. He worked with the local Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral service on day care opportunities.

One goal, he said, for businesses and organizations in the Airline Highway-Burton Avenue areas to build a central cooperative child care operation within short driving distance of the various workplaces there. It’s something he plans to continue working on even after his transition from Omega to CPM-Roskamp.

Overall, all those initiatives require a change in thinking, Roed said. “Let’s change minds that there’s not any good workers out there. Let’s remove barriers for them and get them to the workplace,” and retain them, reducing turnover and overtime expense.

Part of that economic inclusion, Trainor said, is making new workers, and customers, feel welcome by seeing employers and managers who look like them and have backgrounds similar to them.

“You want to feel welcome when you walk into a company, business or an organization or a school,” Trainor said. “If you see people in leadership roles who are like you, you feel welcome.”

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News Editor at the Courier

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