Jul 25, 201604:33 PMInside Wisconsin
with Tom Still
How being 'family friendly' can help companies overcome worker shortages
(page 1 of 2)
When Mark Tyler thinks about the future of Wisconsin’s economy, he worries there won’t be enough workers to keep it humming.
“We’re transitioning from a ‘skills gap’ problem to what is now a ‘people gap’ problem, meaning the number of working-age people in the workforce is starting to retract,” said Tyler, who co-founded OEM Fabricators Inc. in Woodville and heads a statewide task force on workforce innovation.
“We must do the most with what we’ve got, and not leave any talent on the sidelines,” he said.
That’s why Tyler and other business leaders in western Wisconsin are pushing an initiative that combines attracting and retaining millennials, a generation that will make up a majority of the nation’s labor pool within five years, and building tomorrow’s workforce through early childhood education.
Launched about six months ago through United Way St. Croix Valley, the “Family Friendly Workplace” program invites businesses to be certified as family friendly based on current in-house practices such as health care coverage, flexible work schedules, paid leave options, and even physical space carve-outs for pregnant or nursing mothers.
Businesses pay a modest amount to get certified at one of three levels, with annual fees of $10 per full-time equivalent employee and a $250 application charge. Money raised through certification fees is invested in early childhood education projects affiliated with United Way St. Croix Valley as part of its larger “Success by 6” program.
Tyler and others hope the effort in western Wisconsin can be adopted statewide, especially in the state’s more urban areas, to help businesses attract and retain workers today while investing in early childhood development that will pay dividends decades from now.
The numbers are hard to dispute: Kids who attend organized but relatively inexpensive preschool programs are more likely to graduate from high school, to earn more as adults, to stay off welfare, and to avoid spending time in jail.
All of that accrues huge dividends for society, with long-term economic paybacks for early childhood education pegged at a minimum of $7 for every $1 spent. Study after study, including some that have meticulously traced preschool students into middle age, have reached the same conclusion.
The concept is embraced by many business leaders and academia.
“Investing in children during the early years is the best economic investment a community can make,” said Art Rolnick, a former senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and now a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.