United Way of the Ozarks offering community engagement “toolboxes” to help businesses attract and retain employees

Jessi HawkinsVolunteer Spotlight

Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 6:54 PM CST

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – With supply-chain issues, political infighting, and pandemic-related fears it’s not surprising that more people are isolating themselves at home and looking for alternatives to being out in the workforce.

“I think it’s very easy today to get disconnected,” said Mark McNay, the General Manager at SMC Packaging Group.

“So what happens is people just go from home-to-work or home-to-soccer practice and they end up living ON their community but they don’t really live IN their community,” added Greg Burris, the President/CEO of the United Way of the Ozarks. “So Community Engagement in a Box provides a master list, a catalog of all these different community engagement opportunities.”

The Community Engagement in a Box is a corrugated box that looks just like a tool kit, and the United Way of the Ozarks has made 300 of them for local businesses and organizations.

The “tools” inside consist of researched information plus names and descriptions of programs, organizations, and volunteer work that people can get involved in to feel more a part of the community.

“From a CEO perspective I think the thing that’s most helpful in the toolbox is the data,” said Jena Holtberg-Benge, the General Manager at John Deere Reman. The business re-manufacturers all kinds of John Deere parts and Holtberg-Benge explained why employees who get involved with the community are important to her company.

“We see with engagement, whether it’s volunteer-time or giving back through donations, that those employees tend to be much more engaged in things at work as well,” she pointed out. “Like our employee-led safety committee or our employment engagement team. And that’s the kind of employee that we want, right?”

“During the pandemic, there were a number of people who decided they wanted to do something different,” Burris added. “The great reshuffling. But I think a lot of people are going to come back into the workforce at some point and say, ‘I want to do something but I want it to be more meaningful.’ And just by allowing them to get engaged in the community their loyalty goes up, their pride goes up and they become your best recruiters.

So in other words the toolbox is really about trying to get people to see their jobs as more than just a paycheck. It’s the idea that if they emotionally invest in their community and the people in it, they’ll also care and be more passionate about their jobs as well and want to work there longer.

“I think people have hearts of gold and want to do the right thing,” McNay said. “And it’s our responsibility to engage them and let them know the ways they can become involved. That’s the biggest challenge we have is to find that opportunity for them and then support them when they do reach out for those opportunities.”

And while some are thinking the workforce situation will improve as the pandemic winds down?

“That’s not true,” Burris said. “The labor-curve inverted (more available jobs than people seeking jobs) in 2018 before the pandemic. So what we’re going to see over the next 20-25 years is the competition for talent is going to get more fierce than it is today. And those organizations and communities who get this right are going to have a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining talent.”

The “toolbox” idea is already getting attention from other areas.

“We’ve had a number of United Ways from around the country including United Way Worldwide express interest,” Burris said. “So this could become a national model that’s replicated around the country because if you think about it every community is competing for talent and all communities are going to have to rethink the way they recruit and retain that pool of talent.”

If you’d like more information on the Community Engagement Box, you can call United Way of the Ozarks at 417-863-7700 or send them a message at “[email protected]

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