By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Companies in Minnesota that are challenged to stay fully staffed could turn to overlooked or underutilized workers. The unemployment rate in this country fell to its lowest level in 16 years last month at 4.3 percent. Minnesota’s rate is below that at 3.7 percent. However, Minnesota is unique. As Baby Boomers retire, and companies expand, there’s a gap in the workforce. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has identified what it calls “hidden talent pools.”

People ready to work are all around us, according to Bill Blazar with the Chamber.

“It’s an underutilized set of Minnesotans. It’s a group of individuals who are eligible to work but aren’t,” Blazar said.

He calls unemployment rates deceptive because they don’t include people who have stopped looking or haven’t looked in a while. And it’s imperative to the state’s success that employers look at overlooked populations to fill the growing need.

“We have immediately sort of the confluence of a good economy and a bunch of baby boomers getting ready to retire. I don’t think a business can run or hide from this problem or this challenge,” Blazar said.

In his role as senior vice president for public policy and business development, Blazar hears the workforce needs of companies daily. He identifies these groups as hidden talent pools that can help fill the void: moms returning to the workforce, people who have spent time in jail, people with disabilities, African-American men ages 18 to 25 and immigrants and refugees.

“We’ve got to adapt and change our hiring practices, our recruiting practices, the way we advertise. To get more people that either the traditional system has excluded or overlooked into the job pool,” Blazar said.

The Chamber recognized CentraCare Health in St. Cloud as a company that exemplifies what it means to diversify and meet the needs of employees.

“We need to make sure that our employees are diverse, we mirror our community plus our diverse employee’s offer enormous richness to who we are as an organization,” CEO Dr. Kenneth Holmen said.

Holmen simply calls it good business.

“You will not stay in business if you don’t recognize how the world changes, how you need to change as an employer and how your consumers or customers or in our case patients are changing as well,” Holmen said.

He said the company takes pride in helping employees overcome barriers, whether it’s learning English, training in a certain skill set or becoming certified. And Holmen emphasizes the importance of creating a career path rather than just filling a vacancy.

“Our job is to identify that opportunity, offer it to them but also give them tools to be successful in that opportunity,” Holmen said.

Blazar stresses companies must change their hiring strategies, embrace diversity and cast a broader net to stay fully staffed.

“Here are folks who are fully capable of working. These are people that want to be successful. They can be great workers,” Blazar said.

Click here to learn more about the Chamber’s MN Job Match which partners with companies to connect job candidates with employers.


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