This article originally appeared July 2, 2018 on the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce blog.
When it comes to building a talented workforce, it’s best to start early.
With that understanding, the Asheville Chamber recently hosted a public policy luncheon with the NC Early Childhood Foundation (NCECF) to unveil Family Forward NC, a new statewide initiative that makes the business case for strengthening early childhood education and creating more family friendly workplaces.
“Early childhood care is not just a women’s issue; it’s an issue of business,” said Chamber President and CEO and Kit Cramer, who will be serving on Family Forward NC Advisory Council. “We can best meet our state’s future talent needs by investing in helping parents provide quality early care experiences for children.”
This is not a new issue for the Chamber, which has long advocated the importance of quality early childhood education as an important workforce issue. Supporting expanding affordable access to quality childcare and pre-K education for Western North Carolina’s workforce is an item on the Chamber 2018 Legislative Agenda.
Cramer said she is excited to partner with the NCECF-led Family Forward. With the help of Lisa Finaldi, who leads community engagement for the NCECF, Family Forward was outlined for the nearly fifty business and community leaders in attendance.
“94% of employees say that offering family friendly practices helps them attract and retain talent. And 83% of millenials would leave their job in favor of more family friendly benefits,” Finaldi said.
Finaldi also noted that childcare remains one of the top barriers to employment, and that 45% of respondents to a BCPFC survey said they miss 1 to 2 days of work per month due to childcare issues. Moreover, nation-wide absenteeism costs businesses $4.4 billion annually due to lost productivity.
“It’s important that businesses up their game when it comes to attracting and retaining employees,” added Cramer. “We have an opportunity to think short term in terms of meeting our needs but to also think long term about what we’re doing to impact the future workforce.”
By future workforce, Cramer means our young children, whose brain development is significantly impacted by the first 2,000 days of life. For optimal development and a strong foundation, children need good health, strong families, and high quality early learning and school experiences.
Luncheon attendees brainstorm solutions
Dividing the attending leaders into small groups, participants were encouraged to imagine it was 2028.
“Employers of all sizes are finding ways to create family-friendly workplaces….what happened that supported this?” Lisa asked.
“Large employers need to lead by setting an example, and potentially with dollars,” said Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides.
“If we don’t provide better early childhood educators, then we’ll be providing a conduit that leads to a locked door,” said Gene Leffin of AB-Tech.
“We currently have a RFP and would love to talk with any folks who have concrete ideas about such a partnership. It would be exciting to see collaboration on that front between the Buncombe County and the business community,” added the second commissioner in attendance, Jasmine Beach-Ferrera.
Other suggestions from leaders included: the establishment of family-friendly workplace culture, better pay for early childhood educators, flexible scheduling, and supportive funding.
“It was a rich discussion today,” said Lisa.
The next steps
After an inaugural visit to Asheville, leaders of Family Forward NC will travel to seven more locations across the state to learn from employers, and will use that information to publish a Guide to Family Forward workplaces and develop further strategy.
Employers can help inform the guide by responding to a short survey by July 4, 2018.