The Willamette Workforce Partnership (WWP) is engaging in sector partnerships in three key industries in the mid-Willamette Valley region: Transportation, Warehousing and Distribution; Manufacturing; and Health Care. The workforce development board, providing services in Linn, Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties, is mandated by the Workforce Opportunity and Investment Act to invest in sector strategies, and it makes good workforce investment sense. The health of our area businesses is the key to good jobs and a thriving community.
What is a sector partnership? Briefly, it is an industry-led problem-solving group, with WWP as the “convener.” In that role, WWP acts as a neutral organizer, and, through its community, educational and governmental contacts, provides the resources to assist the industry in solving key problems. The assumption underlying sector partnerships is that they can improve both industry competitiveness and employment opportunities for job seekers.
Why did WWP choose these specific industries? Private sector employment in the mid-Valley is diverse, with no one industry dominating employment. It makes sense to choose industries that show growth potential.
Transportation, Warehousing and Distribution is one of these and includes warehouse workers, long and short-haul truck drivers, forklift operators, and any other position required to operate a warehouse. Nearly 12,000 job openings in this industry are projected over the next ten years (eight percent of all openings) and the industry faces challenges. A plus is a proximity to the Interstate, which has fueled growth – FedEx and Home Depot have recently built large warehouse complexes in south Salem right off I-5, and Amazon is building in the area.
A diverse manufacturing industry is important to the Mid-Valley’s economy, but the industry, with the exception of manufacturing in Yamhill County, has not recovered employment to its level before the great recession. The industry faces many challenges, generally pays good wages, and expects 32,000 job openings over the next ten years.
The health care industry is the only industry to weather the great recession without job losses. Fueled by an aging population, the industry expects nearly 44,000 job openings over ten years. Challenges include finding workers for entry-level occupations and educating a sufficient supply of registered nurses.
The first convening of key business leaders in the Transportation, Warehousing and Distribution industry happened mid- August. WWP staff and partners sat in the back row and listened as a professional facilitator led businesses through the process of identifying problems and brainstorming the resources needed to solve them. Not surprisingly, training and lack of skilled workers were identified as problems. Infrastructure issues hold the industry back from its potential, such as traffic and road conditions that could use improvement. Truck to rail freight movement is being explored in the region as a partial solution. Improving industry image and raising wages to attract workers were also identified as issues. (See graphic to get an idea of what the meeting was like!)
The resources team, which includes representatives from state and local economic development, cities, counties, Chambers of Commerce, Travel Bureaus, and educational institutions, held a follow-up meeting. They were briefed on what industry leaders had discussed. Now comes the hard part, what to do next? Solutions will require hard work and long-term commitment.
WWP business staff will be holding initial employer meetings with manufacturing and healthcare leaders in the months to come