VOICES: Workforce still top of mind for employers in 2024

Credit: Caroline Williams

Credit: Caroline Williams

In many ways, the start of 2024 looks quite different for employers than the start of 2023. Last year began with widespread fear about an impending recession and a feeling that inflation would continue to rise. Luckily, many of those fears did not come to pass, and with the Fed signaling continued interest rates cuts, employers and workers alike are feeling cautiously optimistic for 2024. Major economic development projects have moved forward in the Dayton region and across Ohio, our higher education institutions are seeing enrollments trending upward, and many businesses have felt the confidence to make investments in their workforce.

Between 2020 to 2023, we saw perhaps the most mobile workforce in a generation, and employers adapted, evolved and adjusted their operations in response. In many cases, employers created new talent retention and attraction tools that they perhaps wouldn’t have considered five years ago and quickly started to see positive results in the labor market. For example, changes in workplace flexibility policies contributed to prime-age women (age 25-54) participating in the labor force in the greatest numbers ever recorded. Issues like childcare, housing affordability and transportation access are now driving conversations for business leaders across the country and in our own community. These are conversations that have no easy answers, but it is imperative that the private sector is part of the solution.

For many sectors, employee turnover may have slowed and workforce is still top of mind, as employers compete to retain their top talent. We’ve seen companies take a hard look at what their workforce is truly asking for- and what makes business sense to offer in this rapidly changing climate. Consistently ranked in the top three workforce priorities, alongside pay, is the aforementioned flexibility, which benefits both male and female workers. Now flexibility looks different from employer to employer and from industry to industry, but we’ve seen companies offer truly innovative solutions to a workforce that is calling for greater balance in their professional and personal lives.

The Dayton region, like other communities across the country, is especially focused on how to attract and retain young talent. Employers play a critical role in these efforts, as we know that jobs are a primary driver for relocation or retention for high-school and college grads. High quality work based learning experiences are the best way for students to envision a future in the Dayton region, and creating clearly defined pathway for the growth and advancement early career professionals connects them more deeply to employers and to the broader community, ensuring that we’re more likely to keep them in Dayton

While workforce challenges will continue as generational shifts impact our labor force, the talent recruitment and retention strategies that I’ve seen employers innovate and adopt over the last several years have left me hopeful that we’ll be able to meet these challenges head on.

Stephanie Keinath, MPA, IOM, is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for the Dayton Chamber of Commerce.

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