The Richmond Register

February 1, 2013

Local leaders given crash course on today’s workforce

Southern Growth Policy forum conducted at EKU

By Ronica Shannon
Senior News Writer

RICHMOND — Three human resource managers from large local industries all agreed Friday on two things: Today’s workforce could improve its overall work ethic and some could stand to lose a feeling of entitlement.

Amanda Baker of Sherwin Williams, Ed Bower of EnerSys and Steve Lawson from NAACO Materials Handling Group were panelists during a community forum hosted by the Southern Growth Policies Board.

The North Carolina-based organization helps communities in those states develop visionary economic development policies. It is helping Madison County develop a long-range economic development plan through a process of interactive workshops.

Baker, Bower and Lawson answered a series of questions asked by Madison County Schools Superintendent Tommy Floyd, who said he wants to hear from those in the business community about what they require from entry-level employees.

“One of the things we look for the most is the basic work ethic,” said Baker, who is the human resource manager for approximately 400 employees. “You shouldn’t have to explain to them that they need to be at work on time, come back from lunch on time, go to break and come back on time. Those skills are important. A lot of kids don’t get this at home anymore.”

One thing Bower would like to tell some of his employees is: “We are not here to provide services to employees. Businesses are around to make money. We’re in the business of making batteries, but we’re really in the business to make money.”

Baker agreed that employees, and not necessarily just the younger employees, seem to have an “entitlement mentality,” she said. They seem more interested in benefits, vacation days and holidays.

“It’s not, ‘What can I do for you?’, but ‘What can you do for me?’,” she said.

Aside from the panel presentation, the first half of the forum was spent broken up into several working groups which focused on 11 areas ranging from industrial recruitment, healthcare and education to biking/hiking trails and the Madison County Airport.

Group members were to think of several ways each area could be improved and decide on “Five Bold Steps” to accomplish those goals.

A big reason Madison County is participating in this project is to ensure a better future for its youth, Floyd said. However, Scott Doron, director of the Southern Technology Council for the Southern Growth Policies Board, said some communities wait until too long to begin this type of future planning.

“We see lots of communities do this kind of exercise when they have one employer leave,” Doron said. “By then, it’s almost too late. Rarely do you see what is happening here (in Madison County).”

Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes called Friday’s event “awesome.”

“This is not just an event,” Barnes said. “This is not just a place to gather. I thought this panel was excellent because (it pointed out) exactly what’s wrong with us today. There’s opportunity in Madison County, we just have to take advantage of it, and we have to teach young people responsibility and accountability.

“I think about our (the city’s) workforce. We have approximately 300 people that the taxpayers are paying to work, and the problem with some of those people is the entitlement feeling. And when a young young man tells me that he can stay home and make more money than working, we have a problem. I think this is going to be one of the greatest things to happen in Madison County assuming that people here are going to take this out of this room.”

Berea Mayor Steve Connelly reflected on the era when Dr. Robert Martin was Eastern Kentucky University president.

“Dr. Martin used to say that Madison County is truly blessed. Look at our assets. We have the interstate, railroad, the river, the only thing that’s holding us back is that we can’t cooperate. We fuss among ourselves.”

Friday’s event was an example of what can be accomplished when people from various sectors of the community come together, Connelly said.

“This is the end of a meeting,” he said. “But, it’s the start of a process.”

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 624-6608.