EDASC answers call for support in workforce challenges

EDASC answers call for support in workforce challenges Main Photo

7 Feb 2023

Economic Development

EDASC has heard the call from employers around the county for more skilled workers, and the organization is taking a multi-pronged approach to meeting those challenges. From connecting workforce pipelines through creative education partnerships, to job fairs, to employee retention strategies, EDASC is implementing initiatives to meet the needs of Skagit County employers.  

The Skagit County Economic Recovery Plan developed by EDASC received funding from Skagit County in 2022, making these programs possible. Funds were made available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).  

Building a skilled workforce pipeline 

In partnership with Northwest Career & Technical Academy (NCTA), Career Connect Washington, and Skagit Valley College, EDASC hosted the Skagit Workforce Summit in November 2022. The Summit brought together representatives from business and educational institutions to form workforce development partnerships. 

More than 80 business leaders gathered to hear from the educators. Speakers stressed the importance of engaging students prior to high school, so those students interested in career and technical education can start the coursework in high school and begin making connections to industry.  

Everything from project-based learning in the classroom and field trips to launching a career while students are still in school is on the table.  

NCTA Program Director Mitch Everton has been focused on creating learning-based work opportunities, such as internships and apprenticeships, with local employers and NCTA seniors. In partnership with EDASC, he’s been doing regular outreach in the region and many of these employers are eager to make connections with the young adults graduating from high school.  

Hexcel Corp. is one of those businesses motivated to develop its workforce pipeline through local school systems. Working with Everton, Hexcel Production Supervisor Brad Adams designed a pilot internship program for the aerospace contractor.  

Two students interned with the aerospace contractor, which took place in the students’ final quarter of high school. They rotated throughout the shop, learning different facets of the work from seasoned employees. One of those students is an employee of Hexcel today. 

After its initial success, Adams said Hexcel will double its internship program from two to four participants in the spring of 2023. 
Everton said this initial internship model can be used as a template for other businesses ready to start their own internship program, however he also recognized the schedule and format will need to adjust to the needs of the business and school schedules. For some industries, such as construction, a summer internship may be a better option.  

After the Workforce Summit, about 50 employers attended follow-up events in December to connect with programs in the schools to start building their own workforce pipelines.  

Focus on connecting employers and employees 

Employers have jobs to fill and getting the word out on those opportunities is imperative to connecting with prospective employees. Conversely, job seekers are looking for employment opportunities that are the right fit for their skill set. 

EDASC meets the needs of both employers and job seekers through its online job board and in-person job fairs. 

The Skagit Job Board, launched by EDASC in 2021, initially served current EDASC Investors. In 2022, the service was expanded to all employers located in Skagit County for one year as part of ARPA funding. The job board boasts more than 1,000 listings, with new jobs being added each week and other positions leaving the board as they are filled.  

In August 2022, EDASC hosted an in-person job fair with 60 employers representing businesses from Skagit, Whatcom and Island counties. More than 100 job seekers toured the booths for jobs in manufacturing, human services, health care and other industries. The job fair resulted in over 80 subsequent interviews. 

Two more job fairs will take place in 2023. The next fair is March 14

Employee retention via employee wellness 

To assist employers with employee retention, recruitment, and productivity, EDASC is offering a no-cost pilot program providing mental health and wellbeing services to employees of small businesses. The program, launched in January 2023, will last one year. 

Delivered through a phone and computer app called Nivati, the service functions like an online EAP and offers one-on-one virtual counseling with licensed professionals; access to an extensive video-on-demand library on wellness topics like fitness, nutrition, and finance; and employee utilization reporting and analytics. 

Studies by the Center for Disease Control and Deloitte Insights show a positive return on investment in funding workplace mental health programs. Nivati has served 1.2 million employees, with its analytics showing reduced missed workdays by 60%. Also, 85% of employees have exhibited improved work performance, 60% reported more motivation, and 75% reported feeling better after attending therapy. 

Funding for this program is provided by Skagit County and its commissioners. 
If your business is interested in getting involved with any of these initiatives, contact EDASC Economic Development Manager Aaron Weinberg at aaron@skagit.org.