People need to work. It’s what drives the local economy. Work to live, pay the bills, provide for the needs of the household. It’s a simple economic and societal concept that isn’t quite so simple. Workforce needs is a growing issue in Park Rapids, Hubbard County and across the state as it’s becoming more common to see communities with more jobs than qualified people to fill those jobs. Some of the largest employers in Park Rapids are advertising immediate openings in numerous areas. On the surface it may seem like a good problem to face. And the solution seems simple. Don’t have a job? Employers have openings. Go get a job. Not quite so simple.
Filling the workforce needs can be a complex issue when you figure in things like the relatively easy accessibility, and oftentimes abuse, of government assistance where some people simply don’t feel the need to work when they can live “off the system” as the saying goes. Factor in mental health issues, chemical dependency and generational poverty, and you’ve got a segment of the population not currently qualified for many of the available jobs. Sometimes by choice, oftentimes because the above issues prevent their employability. Social services, mental health professionals, law enforcement, medical providers, educators and other community stakeholders are working hard to tackle these issues and help physically capable people who are not working find employment in some capacity. Absolutely, there are people out there who need to take it upon themselves to get off the couch, pull up the boot straps and get to work. But, oftentimes it’s too easy to look at someone who is not working and say they just need to go out and get a job. We don’t know all the issues they face.
There’s no simple solution to this complex problem. Too many factors. Recently, state legislators on the House’s Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy Committee visited Park Rapids to discuss these very issues. Stumbling blocks for some people in making employment more difficult include lack of reliable transportation and affordable childcare. High cost of childcare compared to an hourly wage and shift work, and not being able to get to the job on time, certainly factor into workforce needs. Chemical dependency is another. It’s tough to employ someone in the manufacturing sector who can’t pass a drug test. Community leaders are well aware of the problem and are working on finding solutions.
A Park Rapids group is participating in extended Blandin Community Leadership Program training with addressing workforce needs as part of the objective. Maybe there’s an opportunity to grow some sort of adult mentoring program. It will be interesting to see what develops as more community groups come together in a collaborative effort to figure out how to get a segment of the Park Rapids and Hubbard County population back to work.
PARK RAPIDS ENTERPRISE