Contributed Column

Workforce Development

by Melissa Hersh, Champlain College

Maximizing your return on investment

With Vermont’s aging demographics and the increasing need for a highly educated and skilled workforce, employers face significant workforce development challenges now and in the future. 

The good news is that with creativity and targeted investment, employers can effectively meet these challenges. 

Vermont has a well-deserved reputation as an entrepreneurial state. While we have many large employers, the greatest contributor of jobs is the small business community. In 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 96.8 percent of all employer-owned businesses in Vermont were small companies. Many of these are innovative, tech-savvy businesses. 

Vermont successfully operates in the global marketplace, with companies exporting goods to 50 countries annually. As of March, over $943 million in international trade was generated by Vermont companies.

Vermont is also a welcoming and diverse community. The arrival of immigrants and refugees has given us a workforce boost. Many of these new Vermonters arrive well educated and with professional skills. Assistance from Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, the Alliance of Africans Living in Vermont, Vermont Adult Learning and other educational and nonprofit groups, helps to smooth the transition to employment. Champlain College added its support recently with the launch of the New American Student Scholarship, which provides, on a needs-basis, full tuition for Vermont’s refugee or asylum students. 

According to AARP, many seniors are reinventing retirement by staying in the workplace longer or re-entering the workplace after they initially retire. As the state with the second-oldest population in the nation, we can capitalize on this trend. Vermont employers have the opportunity to retain their skilled employees longer and hire mature adults who possess a strong work ethic and significant life/career experience.   

Thanks to organizations like VABIR, Transition II and Voc-Rehab Vermont, employers are better informed about how to provide accessible, successful workplaces for people with disabilities. 

College internships have helped mitigate the young talent “brain drain.” Internship programs have paid big dividends for both students and employers; often the sponsoring businesses hire these interns after graduation. 

Champlain’s BYOBiz (bring your own business) program, encourages young entrepreneurs to enroll at the college and simultaneously grow their businesses, earn a degree, and access “wrap-around” resources like business coaching, financing assistance, marketing and technology resources. Look for other creative offerings by area colleges.

Is there a workforce development “silver bullet”? Yes. Investing in your employees’ continuing education is the proven answer. Effective development strategies require the collaboration of three partners: employer, employee and educator. 

We are fortunate to live in a community with abundant educational resources. For example, Champlain College’s Workforce Development Center gives employers an organizational partner in the community with the expertise to assess needs and arrive at solutions. Planned as a gateway to Champlain’s educational offerings, from courses and professional certificates to undergraduate and graduate degrees, all of which can be customized to meet business needs, the center’s delivery is flexible — on campus, on site or online. 

Here are some key questions: 

1. Do your employees have skill gaps, and are these gaps interfering with your ability to grow?

2. Do you offer your employees ongoing opportunities to learn new skills? Do you provide incentives once education is successfully completed?

3. Do you offer a tuition reimbursement program? 

4. Are you using best practices in hiring, orientation and performance evaluation? Is the learning of new skills integrated into your evaluation process?

More and more companies offer tuition reimbursement benefits as part of a comprehensive workforce development strategy. They enjoy a substantial return on investment. Employers see increases in productivity and morale, and their retention rates improve dramatically, eliminating, to a large extent, the revolving recruitment door and the significant expense that goes along with it.

Investing in your employees’ continuing education will help your employees build their careers and in turn, they will help you build your business. •

Melissa Hersh is the director of the Workforce Development Center at Champlain College.

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