Forward Devils Lake Tackling Workforce

In his role of economic developer for the Devils Lake Region Brad Barth is often asked the question, “why is community workforce recruitment so important?” His answer is that regional workforce and especially skilled workers are the key to economic prosperity. Barth asks city leaders to imagine Devils Lake in five, 10, or 20 years from now with no plumbers, heating and cooling technicians, electricians or automotive and diesel technicians, dental hygienists, nurses, computer technicians or precision agricultural specialists.

As these talented people retire, move on or get recruited from other areas, we become more vulnerable for lack of these workers. As time goes on, costs rise, residents leave, and new people stop moving to our area. In summary, a community must have a workforce pipeline for these workers or commerce slows and eventually stops, or moves elsewhere.

The entire country is in a perfect storm, with many thousands of baby boomers retiring today and younger generations not moving into those same roles, but rather heading elsewhere. Communities today must work with their key businesses to create a talent management pipeline of workers needed to replace those leaving and be competitive with other areas. A great example is South Dakota, who with the help of Denny Sanford, created the Build Dakota Scholarship program, a program which is diverting and retaining S.D. students who traditionally would have chosen a N.D. college. North Dakota’s response was the Career Builders Scholarship and Loan Reimbursement program.

Over the last 20 years or so a few businesses/industries in North Dakota have started a trend of sponsoring graduating high school students in a two-year college technical program and then hiring those students when they graduate. The student, as a condition of the sponsorship, is required to live and work in the community in the industry in which they gained their skills for a period of three years.

Forward Devils Lake Corporation is working with local businesses to introduce the same type of program to local and regional high school students to help match those students with local and regional businesses and create their own talent pipeline through their Workforce 20×20 program. Forward Devils Lake partners with the local business by providing a financial incentive when they sponsor a student and take advantage of the Career Builders Scholarship match. The businesses also are required to provide an additional cost of attendance reimbursement to the sponsored student at the end of each year of employment. In exchange the student agrees to live and work in the Devils Lake region for three years. The total scholarship and cost to attend reimbursement amounts to approximately 80 percent of the student’s financial needs.