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“We can’t think of 2021 without thinking of workforce shortages and workforce development initiatives that we need,” said Jason E. Ebey, IOM, CEO and Principal Consultant of YGM Total Resource Campaigns.

Lindsay Keisler, IOM, CCEC, President and CEO of Catawba Co. Chamber in North Carolina says workforce is at the center of their chamber’s strategic plan.

Keisler and their chamber created a print publication to assist with workforce issues in their area several years ago, and she appeared on YGM’s December ‘TRC Talks’ Facebook Live talk show with Ebey to discuss the project.

MADE magazine, their workforce publication, is targeted at students in 8th through 10th grade because Keisler said they were advised those are the years when students are really forced to make some hard decisions about careers. They gathered this information through extensive research with educators in their area.

“It (MADE) is a print publication meant to connect the dots between our future generations of talent and the vast number of opportunities within our community and our businesses, in addition to (answering) how do I get there – what are the educational pathways and skillsets I need as a student to get those roles?” Keisler said.

Keisler went on to explain that the students in their area needed something tangible to have in hand to help them understand that if they wanted a viable career in the community, they could have that.

The businesses needed a platform to tell their story, and they needed to build awareness of themselves as an employer of choice. “They needed an opportunity to set themselves apart as an employer, to tell the story of their company, about the products they produce, about the culture and their leadership philosophy, for this new generation,” she said.

“It was an easy sell for the companies and the partners we work with because it seemed to fill a direct need that both partners had,” Keisler said.

She describes the Catawba Co. Chamber as a ‘3C’ chamber, focusing on being a catalyst, champion, and convener in their community.

Beginning the Process

Prior to the first edition of MADE, they conducted a community strategic planning session in which leaders from the business, government, and education communities came give voice to what they felt were the most critical issues impacting economic generation, both in the long-term and short-term facing Catawba County. Through that, workforce was identified.

She brought together a group to brainstorm next steps. These included:

  • How can we grow the population?
  • How can we fill jobs?
  • How can we build awareness?

“We are not the experts,” she said. “Bring those experts to the table, and you will be able to create solutions. We discussed what can we create that will help check all of those boxes.”

What Content to Include

When talking about the target audience – 8th to 10th grade students – one of the challenges the chamber team had to overcome was how to approach the needed content in a manner that would interest that age group.

“What does everyone love to hear? Everyone loves stories,” Keisler said. “People love things that are interactive and three dimensional. We had to be very specific. We did not want any ads. If your feature looked like an ad, there was no chance it would resonate with a teenager.”

Thus, MADE is comprised of advertorials – paid advertisements designed as feature articles. Each advertorial is custom, written and designed uniquely for each business. The publication also contains QR codes and similar interactive elements to draw the reader further into the story.

“If your article said you made furniture for Steph Curry or you told what you needed to do to maintain a certain lifestyle, that worked,” Keisler explained.

For their first edition of the publication, Keisler and her staff partnered with a company to produce the publication. The chamber assisted, and the partner company handled the majority of the ‘heavy lifting.’ The chamber’s net non-dues revenue from the publication was approximately $5,000.

Planning Advice

  • When deciding to hire a partnering company or do it in-house, know your bandwidth.
  • Your city or county is the most significant benefactor of a project like this. You are helping to retain and attract talent. See if they have talent and tools you can use for this project.
  • Is print or electronic media best for your area? Currently, all of Catawba students have devices, and any future editions would likely be electronic.

MADE is designed to be a two-year publication with an 18 month to two-year budget cycle. For their second edition, they chose to produce it in-house. “This was an entrepreneurial venture for us,” Keisler said. “It was our mini enterprise internally.”

Keisler relayed that, for them, the publication took approximately 11 months from start to finish to get the product into the hands of students, with the content gathering – those custom advertorials – taking the most significant portion of the time. In doing the second edition in-house, the chamber netted non-dues revenue of $50,000.

For those custom advertorials, the content writer they hired interviewed everyone in the publication and asked:

  • What is the story you want to tell?
  • What is unique about this organization?
  • What are some ‘cool factor’ statistics and facts about your company or about the products you create that would help engage this target audience?
  • What is the culture like?
  • Why would someone want to work for your company?

Unexpected Successes

For their second edition, instead of simply handing the publication out, they involved educators in the process and created curriculum for teachers to use in the classroom.

“We were able to distribute the publication along with curriculum – exercises and fun games  that they (educators) can engage the students with – and it makes the teachers lives easier because it’s a ‘plug and chug’ ready made lesson plan for a rainy day or a career unit within that subject area,” Keisler said.

As a result, they got great feedback that educators did, indeed, use it in the classroom and that there is now a greater awareness of careers and companies in their area.

“Even some of the lower grades requested the publications. The students wrote letters to some of the companies – in their language arts classes – and they are incorporating these ideas of career and workforce and future plans,” she said.

Unexpected Opportunities

  • Catawba is turning the publication into an interactive online portal currently.
  • MADE triggered a sister publication – a Talent Acquisition Guide – which was requested by members during the discussion process regarding MADE.
  • By convening business leaders, asking the right questions, and listening to their needs, the chamber became seen as integral to the business community.
  • They developed manufacturing academies with certificate programs to assist the manufacturing industries that had workforce needs.

“We are convening the right people, resources, and influence to get things done on behalf of the business community,” Keisler said.

If you are interested in learning more about MADE, you may view the full episode with Keisler at YGM’s YouTube channel.