The Importance of Our Incumbent Workforce

Throughout my long career at Fox Valley Technical College, I’ve always stressed the critical importance of our region’s current (or incumbent) workforce.  Why? Because there are far more people active in the workforce at any time than the number of new entrants we and other colleges are preparing.  And when employers experience workforce needs, we can more quickly address immediate needs by upskilling or bringing new skillsets to many of their existing employees.  Wise employers will continuously invest in their incumbent workers, not only to add skills to their organizations, but to build employee loyalty and potentially improve retention.

Because the incumbent workforce is imperative from my perspective, in service to the region the College has placed great emphasis on continuing education, professional seminars and workshops, employee assessment, entrepreneur development, customized training and technical assistance over the last four decades.  In fact, when you look at Fox Valley’s comparative outcomes in the “workforce training” category as one element of our statewide System’s outcomes-based funding, we absolutely “own” this category over any other region of the state.  This particular category includes the amount of work being delivered by colleges in customized training, professional seminars, employer tuition reimbursement activity, and apprenticeship education.

The region’s employers have benefitted greatly from this collaboration over the years.  And often times, companies with a national or global reach gain benefit for their employees locally, but also in other locations.  A remarkable example of this is an entire department we’ve devoted to Supply Chain certification training over the last 15 years, now the largest contracting unit of the College.  We work in partnership with the Association for Supply Chain Management in Chicago.  In just the month of April, this team started 20 new cohort courses with almost 300 enrollments in the Supply Chain series.  What’s really interesting, though, is that employees from Novartis, GSK, Northrop Grumman, Collins Aerospace, Regeneron, Micron Technology, Milwaukee Valve, Dupont and Johnson & Johnson are taking these courses from 36 different countries around the world!  And the investment these employers make in training also comes back to the Fox Valley as economic impact.  Typically, local employers are in this mix as well and today’s supply chain is clearly worldwide.

I know some employers can be hesitant about investing in the continuing education of their workers and I know there are examples of employees then leaving and taking their new skills with them.  Education and training represent just one element of employee retention.  But with the demographics of our population and growing skills shortages, I believe it is worth the risk and a critically important workforce strategy.  What do you think?   

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