BN area businesses project strong employment growth in the next 3 years

McLean County businesses expect to add more than 2,500 jobs in the next three years. That’s according to a survey of more than 100 employers conducted for the Chamber of Commerce.

Businesses said they expect to add the most jobs in education and training, health sciences, business management, and hospitality and tourism. Manufacturing came in fifth in expected job growth. The labor department defines 16 career clusters that broadly represent the focus of certain jobs.

Businesses that responded to the survey ranked the expected job additions in these career clusters:

  1. Business management and administration
  2. Marketing
  3. Human services
  4. Finance and insurance

To get the workers needed to meet the expected growth, the study suggests business owners ask themselves some questions.

“Employers feel that they can convey their meaning and purpose and give advancement. But employees are leaving the community for opportunities elsewhere. So, there’s a disconnect,” said Sarah Blalock, workforce innovation coordinator at Illinois State University’s Center for Specialized Professional Support, which did the study.

Compensation is the top reason workers turn down job offers or leave positions, yet employers said that it is a factor they have less control over than some other factors. Blalock said employers find offering job flexibility to be a challenge, yet employees who leave say flexibility is the number two reason they leave.

“Most employees are full time. Are employees allowing for flexibility when applicable? That’s a big deal,” said Blalock. “We know that not every sector can do this. But if you can, are you making it a priority, because it is a priority for your employees.”

Study authors said data do not give you answers, but allow you to ask better questions.

Businesses said diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are less important than communicating effectively and understanding customer service essentials as qualities businesses weigh for employable skill sets. Blalock said businesses should consider how DEI can add value to their workforce.

And center director Amy Julian said DEIA — referring to diversity, equity, inclusion and access — is a topic a lot of people are discussing as a way to create sustainable growth in the community and workforce. How work spaces are accessible and inclusive matters, she said.

Area businesses said they feel it is very easy to convey to workers company values, meaning and purpose, and create a personal connection to a company.

Reasons employees leave reported by employers, according to the study:

  1. Compensation
  2. Job flexibility
  3. Benefits

Why employees turn job offers down:

  1. Compensation
  2. Benefits
  3. Job flexibility
  4. Relocation for family or interpersonal reasons
  5. Housing availability

Why employees leave the community, cited by past employees:

  1. Relocation
  2. Professional opportunities otherwise not available locally
  3. Geographic location
  4. Cost of living
  5. Affordable childcare

Those responses generated several recommendations from the Center for Specialized Professional Support, including a systematic review of compensation and benefits both in Illinois and nationally.
“This is a global economy now. So, are you being competitive,” said Blalock.

The center also recommends that companies engage university populations because they are a great source of future employees. And, businesses should also employ career awareness opportunities and career pathways with local education systems. Blalock mentioned the career pathways target populations committee.

“And they cited the number one reason that youth are not interacting with a career pathway is because they are not aware that the career pathway exists. And getting to them early is the best thing you can do. So, are you engaged in K-12 systems? Are you engaged with the high schools. Are you engaged with your universities?” Blalock asked.

“Because the earlier you can plant those seeds, the longer they will stay with those students and likely they’ll become your employees and stay here for a long time.”

Julian said another takeaway for businesses is to explore apprenticeships and funding, adding that should be easy because it’s something businesses said they already want to do.

“There is a lot of funding opportunities coming down from the state right now regarding apprenticeships and building apprenticeships,” said Julian.

There is also an educational pipeline with the Bloomington Career Center, Heartland Community College, and the universities that can help build businesses through creating homegrown employees, she said.

Another recommendation is that the community explore recreational and entertainment growth opportunities.

“One of the things they are saying they are not staying for is because of the location. So, what can we offer to those individuals who are here to make them want to stay here?” said Julian.

Study authors noted the respondents were across all sizes of business in many sectors, but they were not evenly distributed. Most respondents were from either very large or very small firms. There were almost no respondents from mid-sized businesses, suggesting a future focus for economic development leaders in the community.

Altogether, the businesses that responded to the survey have more than 30,000 employees in the Bloomington-Normal area, or just shy of a third of the 96,000-person workforce in McLean County.

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