Meeting the challenge of the rural workforce

By celebrating National Agriculture Week and National Agriculture Day, AEM recognizes the importance of agriculture and the vital role it plays in society. Today is a valuable opportunity not only to celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture in the United States and around the world, but also for AEM to reaffirm its commitment to supporting farmers and end users of farm equipment.

Running a business in a rural area has some wonderful benefits, such as lower crime rates, beautiful scenery to enjoy, and a sense of community connection that is different from urban areas.

However, this also comes with unique challenges for Workforce Development. These can be a lack of access to high-speed internet, a rural “brain drain”, a lack of diversity and limited access to educational advancement opportunities. Additionally, there may be challenges with community resources, such as transportation, child care, health care, and housing. While every community is different, there are still best practices supported by research and proven solutions that can be considered to support and enhance the rural workforce.

Numerous research reports have been published on rural economies and the rural workforce. In 2017, the Investing in the American Workforce initiative held listening sessions and conducted extensive research. The aim of the initiative was to shed light on the challenges and opportunities of the workforce, including rural issues. The research has identified stakeholder strategies to build stronger rural economies. Based on the 2017 research and listening sessions, a 2019 report entitled Strengthening the workforce Development in rural areas by Ashley Bozarth and Whitney Strifler, was published by the Federal Reserve. The relevant conclusions presented in Strengthening workforce development in rural areas are reflected in the data and suggestions provided in this article and in the AEM Rural Workforce Action Plan in the recently published paper. AEM Workforce Solutions Toolkit.

Current perspectives

According to Strengthening workforce development in rural areas:

  • One in four businesses located outside metropolitan areas struggle to find skilled workers, compared to one in six in metropolitan areas.
  • Adults 65 and over represent on average 25% of the rural population, compared to 19% in metropolitan areas.
  • White non-Hispanic adults aged 16 and over make up about 82% of the population in non-metro areas, compared to 60% in metro areas.
  • The vast majority of persistent poverty counties, where more than 20% of the population has lived in poverty over the past 30 years, are located in non-metropolitan areas
  • 40% of tenant households outside the metro and 21% of owner occupants outside the metro spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs.
  • 58% of rural census areas in the United States have little or no access to quality child care.
  • In rural areas, the overdose rate exceeded metropolitan rates in 2015.
  • Rural residents make up 57% of the population in neighborhoods without broadband access, but only 15% of the country’s total population.

What you can do

To solve rural workforce issues, businesses must be willing to think beyond their own needs by connecting and investing in their communities. One report encouraged companies to approach rural workforce development with a quasi-public good approach. The systemic challenges facing rural businesses require a willingness to collaborate with key community stakeholders in a way that encompasses the five best practices broadly categorized below. These are solid strategies that require a community approach and a long-term mindset. Organizations such as economic development corporations or chambers of commerce often lead these initiatives. Offering your support, whatever your level, will contribute to the success of your community and to a stronger available workforce.

Strategies for the rural workforce

The strategies described below are closely related to those outlined in Strengthening workforce development in rural areas. Additional research reports and articles have confirmed the validity of this comprehensive policy package.

Connect young people and adults with education and training programs directly linked to existing and growing industrial sectors.

A critical piece of the rural workforce puzzle is to ensure that the limited education programs available in rural areas match the skills and workforce needs of the community. It is important that programs create clear career paths from school to employment. It is essential to present these paths to young and adult learners. The financing of vocational technical education (CTE) can and should be supported by public and private organizations. These connections are best supported by industry education partnerships. (Examples of career paths and funding opportunities can be found in the Workforce Solutions toolkit.)

Support economic diversification initiatives that increase economic resilience.

Many rural communities have one or two flagship businesses that stimulate the economy. The loss of one of these key industries can put a community at risk. Diversifying the size and type of business can help stabilize the impact of potential losses. This diversity also paves the way for attracting workers from all skill sets. Understanding this dynamic while contributing to a collaborative effort makes sense.

Create community facilities that improve the quality of life in order to attract and retain workers.

Rural employers face a duality when recruiting and retaining employees: the challenge disproportionate rural poverty and reduced access to education, and opportunity to attract additional workers who seek to discover abundant natural resources or a community experience different from urban areas. These challenges and opportunities give rural employers the opportunity to reap benefits beyond wages while strengthening their workforce. Employers should articulate the unique advantages of their region when posting jobs, as this can be very effective (especially if they are targeting a specific audience).

Support community development efforts focused on reducing common rural barriers including transportation, housing, child care, health care and broadband.

When willing people are prevented from working due to issues such as transportation, housing and lack of childcare, businesses will have to consider whether it is more costly to invest in solutions or suffer a loss. production capacity. Rural communities also disproportionately lack quality broadband coverage, which in today’s world is an expectation of workers looking to relocate. Companies may not want to take these issues on their own, but engaging in community efforts to address these issues directly benefits workforce recruitment and retention.

Collaborate with the public, not-for-profit and private sectors to align the goals of workforce development, economic development and community development.

Rural communities, businesses and economies face unique challenges that require community stakeholders to work together to overcome them. Learn more about how communities can come together and create success by consulting the resources for the Education Partnerships, Regional Initiatives and Rural Workforce action plans within the province. AEM Workforce Solutions Toolkit.

Learn more

If you need more help, ideas, or information, first visit the Workforce Solutions toolkit or contact AEM’s Julie Davis at [email protected].

For more AEM news and updates, subscribe to the AEM industrial advisor.


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About Jeffrey Wurtsbach

Jeffrey Wurtsbach

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