Q&A with Marlana Cork, Director of Workforce Development for the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce

Marlana Cork, Director of Workforce Development for the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce since May 2022, has been involved in workforce development for about 14 years. She's worked at Michigan Works! as part of the Workforce Investment Act (No Worker Left Behind.) The program evolved into the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). She also worked with the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) programs. She also was an admission representative for Davenport University and a recruiter for Adecco Staffing.

QUESTION: Your position as Director of Workforce Development for the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce was created in May 2022. Can you tell us a little about what the job entails and the reasons behind creating the new position?

ANSWER: Over the last decade or so, the population and workforce has been on the decline.  So, the need to recruit and retain talent was more evident. When Bay County was awarded funds from the The American Recovery Act (ARPA), it had been decided to put forth an initiative to focus on retaining and recruiting talent to Bay County. (Read more about ARPA funds in a Feb. 17 Route Bay City article.)

In my position as Director of Workforce Development for the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, I will be collaborating with training institutions, job seekers, and employers—to brainstorm on what creative methods we can generate to build talent pipelines as well as retaining the current talent in the area. 
Cork says she will collaborate with schools, colleges, universities, job seekers, and employers to brainstorm creative ways to attract and retain talent.Q: What are your goals for your first year in this position?

A: My first goal is to get a better understanding of the needs of employers in the Bay County area.  I am working with employers to identify what barriers they are having with recruiting and retaining talent. Also, connecting with our training institutions, so we can continue to build stronger intern pipelines and better connections among community partners. 

The second goal that is in progress is building a centralized job search platform that will cater to both job seekers and employers. There are several individuals that might not be active on social media platforms. So, this gives another space for both job seekers to view openings, and research companies that are actively hiring. This platform will allow employers to post employment and internship opportunities.  I’m working on this mechanism with my colleague Phil Eich, who is the director of Marketing and Placemaking with the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. This platform is set to launch between December 2022 and January 2023. 

My last goal is to get in front of job seekers. That includes students and job seekers actively looking for work. Finding what the job seekers needs are just as important. I want to find out what skills are lacking and maximize on how we can close the skills gap.

Q: Where are the skills gaps now? 

A: We have a major decline in areas such as skilled trades and STEM occupations as well as other areas of the workforce. We have individuals who are willing to work but may need the necessary training to do so. At times, some individuals may not know where they can get assistance for training as well as funding. Having resources such as our local workforce development agency gives additional access to job seekers that need that additional assistance. 
Q. What does a great day at work look like for you?
A: A great day at work for is having the opportunity to collaborate with an HR (Human Resources) team to discuss their needs. Also, talking to career counselors to discuss their bucket list of needs and wants. The energy that is generated from these conversations reignites me and feeds into my passion. I truly feel that I am having so much fun, it’s not work at all for me.

Q: The worker shortage is a hot button topic both in the media and in individual conversations. Everyone has an opinion on the root cause. What do you think is causing the shortage? More importantly, what do you think can be done to resolve it?

A: Based on my short time with the Chamber, and I that I have seen over the years in my career more people have moved away from the area because there were few employment opportunities. When the manufacturing industry declined in the late 2000s, this caused several workers to become displaced and more individuals moved away.  

What can be done? With the industries that are available in the Bay County area, we must make sure there is a workforce that has the appropriate skills to fill the employment needs.  Those skills would include both technical and professional skill sets. 
Q: Tell us about some businesses that have found creative ways to recruit employees despite the shortage.

A: Some employers are allowing remote work schedules to promote a better work-life balance for employees. Other organizations within Bay County have referral programs. Employees can referral individuals and receive a bonus based on the amount of time the referred employee stays. 

Also, employers are surveying their employees to get their input on what additional adjustments and changes can be made within the organization. This gives employees a voice to make a difference within the organizations they are working in.
Q. What creative methods are businesses using to provide services in the face of the shortage?

A: Some employers are allowing hybrid or remote work schedules. Other programs or services offered are ride-share programs, transportation allowances, and new child-care programs.  Programs such as the Michigan Tri-Share Child Care program provides child-care assistance to qualifying employees who work with participating employers with childcare expenses. (Read more about the MI Tri-Share Child Care program in this April 15, 2021 Route Bay City article.)
Q. What do you suggest high school and college students do now to be prepared to enter the workforce in a few years?

A: Explore, explore, explore. This is the time students in high school and college need takes advantage of every opportunity to job shadow, research, and intern, if possible, in the industry they are interested in. As I was growing up, I wish I had maximized those opportunities. I would advise students who are in high school, to enroll in a program at their local career center. In this area, we have Bay-Arenac ISD Career Center. All students should reach out now to their school counselors, parents, social media platforms that are positive to research the possibilities. Again, I urge all youth to please take the time to explore.
Q. What's one thing you wish people understood about workforce development?

A: The one thing I wish people really understood about workforce development is that workforce development is more than just recruiting. It’s a concept that can be defined to enhance and train individuals to meet the needs of current and future business industries to maintain a sustainable and competitive economic environment. This is why it’s important for all community partners to collaborate and think how we do business differently.

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at editor@RouteBayCity.com