How the Skills Gap Gave Birth to a Rail Industry Changemaker
by Virgil Roundtree, Cofounder, ConnectWork
For the past 5 years employers have awakened with cottonmouth, thirsting for talent amid a slow-moving storm of young hopefuls, yet the rain never comes. This phenomenon is known as the “skills gap” and companies throughout the rail industry are hastily patching together recruiting strategies to deal with this problem.
The Wild West of Recruiting
Many companies have resorted to temp agencies who churn out low quality applicants with the hope that every 1 in 20 will be a decent fit. Others depend on job boards or Craigslist, drawing in an overwhelming number of responses, but from underqualified people. Word-of-mouth is the most effective means to source workers, but this is limited to the finite number of residents who haven’t left rural America for more promising opportunities. Some companies have tried a more strategic approach by building relationships with local colleges and trade schools but find they are competing with other industries who pay more for recent graduates. Even when successful, companies may be forced to abandon these programs due to the cyclical nature of the rail industry.
The Flip Side of the Issue
Young people are expected by their peers and family to opt for college in pursuit of the corner office career, and may be oblivious to alterative career tracks that lead to the same goal. Meanwhile, rail career professionals are subjected to poaching by recruiters looking for a duct tape solution. These methods fail to address changing cultural demands, the need to grow a pipeline of new workers, and rail’s inability to bring a “cool factor,” but the founders of ConnectWork have accepted the challenge and adopted a relentless attitude in solving it.
The Secret Sauce
From day one, the goal has been to invest in people and companies simultaneously. ConnectWork’s first chess move was to position themselves at the center of the issue by opening a dialogue with urban and rural community colleges, industry professionals, and private/public workforce organizations. From these conversations, the initial focus was placed on small and medium-sized businesses in the rail industry.
ConnectWork’s online platform was created to give these businesses the opportunity to use their team, rail experience, and network to help locate untapped individuals and build interest in potentials. To date, ConnectWork has been successful working with this group by luring a new generation of workers into the pipeline through innovative training opportunities, capitalizing on social networks, and by tapping into existing employee connections. The platform also provides access to a database of former and current, vetted rail professionals.
The Rail Workforce Gurus
Over the past 3 years we have embraced technology and the changing forecast for talent by helping employers to:
- craft realistic projections for their hiring demand,
- locate training deficiencies,
- secure funding for training, and
adjusting company culture to support the incoming generation of workers.
The key to this process is how our internal team constantly evolves their methodology by introducing new recruitment strategies, brainstorming creative marketing ideas, and taking a megaphone to social platforms to inform the public about the history and unique benefits that a career in rail can offer.
ConnectWork is introducing the future of workforce development to the rail industry using an abstract approach that current job boards and recruiters are not equipped to handle.