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Hennen: What is our workforce strategy?

End the East-West divide

Scott Hennen.jpg
Columnist Scott Hennen
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Ask any employer about their top concern these days, and inevitably you’ll get some form of this answer – "I can’t get enough people." From energy to agriculture, manufacturing to health care, and many others, finding an adequate workforce is their most challenging priority.

Where has our workforce gone post-pandemic?

I finally heard a plausible answer, as the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber hosted a “Fueling our Future” event Monday. Ted Abernathy, the managing partner of Economic Leadership LLC, a consultant working in more than a dozen states to develop economic and workforce strategies, had the data.

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He said a majority of those who have left the workforce are women with children at home. It seems, with the high cost of day care, it is more affordable to stay home and be with the kids.

Another large group that opted out of the workforce included those 55-plus and eligible for early retirement.


Attracting these two groups back to the workforce will be critical to meeting the needs of employers. But how do we do that?

It’s time for a comprehensive statewide strategy. Shannon Full, president and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber, wants to partner statewide. She suggested we set aside any east-versus-west, rural-versus-urban divide.

“I believe we talk collectively about what's going to benefit the state. We are much more intentional about forming relationships, critical relationships, with key leaders in other parts of the state,” Full said.

Abernathy suggests we have more frank conversations about our workforce strategy.

“What you need is a culture of candor,” he said. “To collaborate, you have to understand the partners. It’s like a habitat house. We've got a plan, your job is to do this, and my job is to do that. When we're done, we all get to celebrate that. We reached our goal, which is to have that house. So we have to be really clear about the plans. It's up to organizations, the public sector, university sector, and hospital sector, in those, everybody's pushed by something different. So to get them to align and collaborate takes a lot of work.”

A lot of work, indeed. But all of us can play a part to build a better North Dakota.

An oil service industry representative told me recently..."As much as we’d love to drill for more oil, we need more people." Who do you know that would benefit from one of these high-paying, quality jobs in the Bakken?

Agriculture has always been the 800-pound gorilla of North Dakota’s economy. Our farms and ranches need a hearty workforce to thrive.


Pick your favorite sector, we need people. What is the strategy? Genuine collaboration!

"There are actionable items here that will allow us to advance, but it's going to take everybody getting behind them,” Full said. "This isn't just an agenda to get what we want. It's much more around understanding and forming a true connection that says, now I understand what you need in Minot, Dickinson, and Watford City. "

Now more than ever our big, little state should come together and strive to implement a "Best in Nation" approach to building the workforce of tomorrow. Let's fuel our future!

Scott Hennen hosts the statewide radio program “What’s On Your Mind?” On AM 1100 “The Flag”, KFYR AM 550, AM 1090 KTGO “The Flag” and AM 1460 KLTC. Email him at ScottH@FlagFamily.com

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

This week, columnist Scott Hennen shares a message of gratitude for family, farmers and energy producers. "I'm grateful for the encouragers," Hennen writes. "The world needs more of them, now more than ever."

Opinion by Scott Hennen
Scott Hennen hosts the statewide radio program “What’s On Your Mind?” On AM 1100 “The Flag”, KFYR AM 550, AM 1090 KTGO “The Flag” and AM 1460 KLTC. Email him at ScottH@FlagFamily.com

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