Area’s Workforce Presents Challenges and Opportunities, Says Lake County Advancement Committee Committee

SCHERERVILLE — Employers currently face two main challenges: inflation and labor, said Cal Bellamy, board member of the Lake County Economic Advancement Committee.

A panel of experts discussed ways to solve the problem of finding and retaining enough skilled workers at the LCAC’s “Regional Workforce Building Strategies” luncheon at Teibel’s Restaurant on Friday. .

Lake County Economic Alliance President and CEO Karen Lauerman moderated a discussion between Center of Workforce Innovations President and CEO Lisa Daugherty, Community Liaison for Employment Services Michelle Novak and Main Region CTE/Career Center Director Lauren Dado.

The average wage in Lake County is now $22.50 to $23 an hour, but it’s skewed upward by high-paying workers in the oil refining and steel industries, Lauerman said.

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“Oil refining, steel and manufacturing will remain key parts of our economy and drive our success, but the economy has diversified beyond that,” she said. “There is growing diversity in Lake County’s economy.”

Northwest Indiana now has a wide range of job openings, including welding, industrial, electrical, hospitality, culinary and caregiving jobs, Daugherty said. But most of the openings are in the field of health care.

“Most openings by far are for registered nurses,” she said. “There are almost double the number of openings than in retail. Data shows healthcare is the number one employer, followed by manufacturing.”

Finding employees has been a challenge for many employers, Lauerman said.

“Workforce challenges are what everyone faces,” she said. “Workforce is the number one thing businesses look for when looking to locate in Lake County. It’s as critical as location and infrastructure.”

There are underutilized sectors of the labor market, such as one in four adults who have a disability, Novak said.

“Companies could look to this population to find potential candidates,” she said. “It’s about breaking down stigma and educating employers about disability and meeting the needs of people with disabilities.”

Efforts are underway to address complaints about the lack of skilled workers, Dado said. Many educational initiatives aim to train or upgrade workers, for example for the building and construction trades.

Employers must try to understand workers’ needs if they want to attract and retain them, Daugherty said.

“The first year I was in this job was at the start of the pandemic and they were angry and upset with the workforce. They said what was happening was too much unemployment benefits,” she said. “I saw the data and that’s not what it was. It was a bunch of reasons.”

The labor force participation rate is on the rise, but the pandemic has accelerated the departure of many people who are leaving the labor force, Daugherty said.

“When I was at The Times, someone used to say when you point one finger, you got three fingers pointing at you,” she said. “Employers want to blame everyone and everything for labor shortages, but don’t look inside their workplace and what’s going on there. During the pandemic, we’ve learned that everything can be delivered to your door. This includes work. It’s not just about working remotely, but flexibility and adapting to a schedule. Young people don’t want to do the same job every day all day. As As an employer, you have to see the fingers pointing at you. Workers had more choice and a better chance of doing work that was desirable to them. People want to rise in rank. They want happiness.

Michael A. Bynum