Workforce shortage is a tough issue to address

his week, the Greater North Dakota Chamber opined that the Legislature made good strides in addressing the workforce shortage that is problematic for many businesses, isn’t good for potential state growth, and which is a challenge to address through statewide policy.

One bill provided $3 million in Bank of North Dakota earnings to match employer dollars to support workforce scholarship or student loan repayments. Another bill eased occupational licensing requirements for military spouses who are licensed in other states. Teachers and nurses are the largest employment fields affected. Another bill supported by GNDC provides $2 million for a tax credit on equipment and technology used in manufacturing.

These are all good things that the GNDC is right to praise and which should count as successes by the Legislature.

However, workforce shortages is identified as one of the major factors negatively impacting the state. It should be examined hand in hand with the state’s “brain drain” – the unfortunate tendency for college graduates in the state to seek post-collegiate careers in other states.

It’s a tough issue to address.

The financial benefits approved by the Legislature are certainly helpful. But is the challenge entirely about economics, or is there more? Perhaps issues the state government has little or no ability to affect?

Economic opportunities can be found in many communities, here and elsewhere. Even states with twice the unemployment rate of North Dakota have need for new employees in certain sectors, which certainly varies from region to region.

With the need for employees here and a state economy more robust than in many states, one might think that is enough to address the workforce shortage. But clearly it isn’t, since despite those positive factors, most industries in North Dakota would likely agree that they have a shortage of appropriate applicants for open positions.

Educational opportunities, school quality, advancement possibility beyond one’s initial job and numerous quality of life issues are just a few of the considerations when it comes to attracting and retaining a workforce.

These items largely can’t be addressed at the state level.

Instead they must be addressed at the local level.

Cities and towns must invest in crafting a quality of life and amenities that make them attractive to workers. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses that must be taken into consideration when fostering an environment welcoming and appealing to new workers.

While workforce shortages might be a state problem, there is only so much the state government can do. For the most part, however, it falls on individual communities to convince workers that theirs is the right place to settle and build a career.

It is a challenge.

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