Initiative Aims to Strengthen Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC’s Young Workforce

Initiative Aims to Strengthen Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC’s Young Workforce
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Written by Rajesh Tamada

When University of North Carolina at Charlotte sophomore Daniel Nguyen received an offer for a co-op position in North Dakota, he thought the location was a typo.

When University of North Carolina at Charlotte sophomore Daniel Nguyen received an offer for a co-op position in North Dakota, he thought the location was a typo.

He’d expected the role would be in North Carolina when he got the offer at a job fair. After clarifying that the job wasn’t in his home state like he thought, he took it anyway, and once he got to the Bismarck-Mandan region he was pleasantly surprised by how much he liked it.

He’s an example of the type of young person the Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC is looking for to fill jobs and grow the region amid a national workforce shortage.

Companies are facing “unprecedented challenges” as they grapple with a labor market that has more job openings than unemployed workers, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There are 9.8 million job openings in the U.S., but only 5.9 million unemployed workers, and 1.9 million fewer Americans are working now when compared to February 2020, the month before the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to August Chamber of Commerce data.

The situation in North Dakota is especially pressing: the Chamber of Commerce categorizes the state as one of the 11 most severe landscapes, with 37 available workers for every 100 open jobs. But North Dakota is also a growing state – the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the state’s population reached an all time high of just under 780,000 in 2022, with a 2023 estimate yet to be announced – and a 2019 Census Bureau report found that North Dakota was the only state to get younger between 2010 and 2018.

To bridge the gap in the capital city area, Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC President and CEO Brenda Nagel said her team is focused on building community and providing opportunities for young workers to get to know the region. Bismarck and Mandan may not boast some of the same amenities as larger cities like Minneapolis, but familiarizing young people with the possibilities the region has to offer can help them appreciate the community, Nagel said.

“There are different things to do. We don’t move at as fast of a pace as a big city,” she said. “But there are plenty of other opportunities in our communities of Bismarck and Mandan that give them a good place to set up base.”

At some points, limited openings in the national labor market have helped North Dakota grow its workforce, Chamber Workforce Marketing Specialist Mary Kempenich said. When North Dakota is one of just a handful of states with active hiring in a competitive labor market, she said, it becomes easier to convince candidates to move to the Bismarck-Mandan area.

But that’s no longer the case, which means community-building efforts can have a larger impact on the likelihood of a candidate taking a role in North Dakota, she said.

“We need to give people a reason to want to be here and reasons to want to stay,” Kempenich said. “We can’t just rely on the job market to bring people into the state anymore.”

Nguyen moved to North Dakota in May to begin a program through his school that allows him to get professional experience with Bobcat Co.’s acceleration team through December. He was also one of a handful of attendees at an intern event the Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC put on last month. The event was billed as an opportunity for students to meet other young people and get connected to the community. Intentional investments in a young workforce through these kinds of events can go a long way toward rooting professionals in the region, according to Nguyen.

“Young people are essentially the future,” he said. “If you can get young people in early, I mean, that’s the future of your city, future of your community. Those are the people who are going to invest probably the most.”

Internship opportunities like Nguyen’s and enrollment at North Dakota’s higher education institutions are two of the clearest pipelines for young talent within the state, Kempenich said. She works closely with schools such as Bismarck State College to draw in out-of-state students and keep them in the region through career opportunities and community events.

Internships and higher education can expose students to the Bismarck-Mandan community, Kempenich said, but it’s what the community does to welcome young professionals that can define their experience. She supplements educational and professional growth opportunities with additional programming, such as brown bag lunches for interns and community mixers.

Attendance at these events can vary – the recent intern event had just four people stop by for the majority of its two hours, but Kempenich said another recent event saw nearly 80 attendees. And whether there are four or 40 people who stop by, it’s important to consistently provide these kinds of opportunities for young professionals to get connected, according to Kempenich.

“It shouldn’t all be on the people coming into the community to figure out how to become a part of that community,” she said. “The community also has to reach out a helping hand and say, ‘Hey, we want you here. We are excited that you’re here. We want to get to know you.”

News Source: The Bismarck Tribune