A recurring theme in the Nebraska business world is the need for quality workers.
It came up again in the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s annual survey of business owners, executives and community leaders. Most respondents see workforce quality and availability as the top concern facing their business right now, ahead of even taxes.
On top of that, more than a third of respondents said population loss or a shrinking workforce was the top concern for their city. Another 20 percent said lack of civic participation was their community’s biggest problem.
Turn those numbers around and it would seem that finding a good job would be easy for someone with sufficient skills, especially when you factor in the state’s low unemployment rate. But significant numbers of Nebraskans are underemployed, working at jobs that don’t match their skills and training, or in part-time jobs. If you find yourself in that category, how do you move up?
One suggestion comes from a study of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 Current Population Survey. Volunteering can boost a young person’s chance of landing a job, cutting the likelihood of being out of school and out of a job in half, the study shows. According to a report from Bloomberg Businessweek, researchers at an inequality-focused nonprofit, Opportunity Nation, looked at the characteristics of young adults between ages 16 and 24 in 25 cities to attempt to learn what caused young people to experience what they call “disconnection” — neither being in school nor having a job.
“One factor that affected disconnection, they found, was whether they’d volunteered at least once in the past year,” the magazine reported. “The typical young adult who volunteers has a 5.7 percent chance of being disconnected, compared with about 11 percent for people who don’t.”
Volunteering can help teens land their first job, even if they don’t have other job experience. But even with older students, it can be a game-changer. People who volunteer are 27 percent more likely to land jobs, according to a 2013 study. They’re also happier, other research shows, and serving their community leads to people remaining more functional later in life. Those who volunteer when they’re young tend to have lower rates of mortality and are healthier overall.
Groups such as NEXT Young Professionals, United Way and the Scottsbluff-Gering United Chamber of Commerce offer many ways to serve and get connected with people in the local business community. Traditional clubs such as Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and Business and Professional Women make service part of their mission. For people with specific interests, such as the arts, music or history, the West Nebraska Arts Center, Gering Community Band or Legacy of the Plains Museum can put you in touch with folks with similar interests. You can also coach youth sports through the YMCA or similar organizations.
You won’t only be improving your networking opportunities, you’ll help to build a better community. Places such as Scottsbluff and Gering are good places to raise children because so many people are willing to fill leadership roles. Yet young workers will find they don’t have to wait for their elders to step aside in order for service opportunities to open up. There’s always a need for another person willing to help. And because we lack many of the big-city stresses, such as rush hour or long commutes, you have a little more time to fit volunteer service into a busy schedule.
It’s a great way to meet people, especially for newcomers to a community — and to show a potential employer that while you might not be the perfect candidate for her or her job, you’ve got what it takes to be a good employee.