VIA CEO Forum 2022
Friday, December 2, 2022
Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook University Center
On December 2, 2022, approximately 60 Santa Clarita Valley-based CEOs, Presidents, Business Owners, and Top Executives gathered at the VIA CEO Forum to discuss top issues identified through a multi-question survey circulated to SCV business leaders in mid-2022.
Through the survey, several topics were identified by Santa Clarita Valley based businesses as most critical for the next 2-5 years. The following three topics/questions were selected as top priority and included in the discussions at the Forum:
- How has the infrastructure of your workplace changed post-Covid?
- Inflation is at a rate not seen since the 1970s. How are you coping? How much flexibility do you have? Can you add surcharges? Have contractor’s bid times been reduced? How does inflation affect your business?
- Emerging Workforce – What are you seeing with new entry level employees? Has that changed? What skills are needed? How can VIA help?
Below are the observations and takeaways of those discussions.
Discussion Topic 1:
How has the infrastructure of your workplace changed post-Covid?
Although all businesses in attendance complied with the shut-down requirements during 2020 and 2021, all immediately enabled work-from-home formats for their employees to allow their businesses to continue to operate. Most employed online work, and all heavily utilized Zoom meetings and conferences to remain in touch with employees. Initially productivity worsened. Employees seemed very lax with their work and struggled to adapt to the “new normal.” After a time, this seemed to rebound with many businesses making the decision to outsource their customer service.
Most companies lost revenues, employees, clients and some even had to reduce their office footprint or consolidated locations/branches to accommodate the loss of income.
The pandemic also caused some unexpected changes in the workplace due to the absence of predictability in supply chain.
Once businesses were allowed to re-open, many employees preferred to continue working online. Many businesses accommodated this request or created hybrid schedules where employees worked some days from home and some days from the office. Some industries experienced employee resentment where some could work from home and other positions required physical presence. New boundaries had to be set to create normal work hours, even if working from home. Some discovered it was an additional challenge to retain/create culture with different schedules. Ultimately, it was largely dependent on the individual/role if a virtual or hybrid schedule was successful.
Then an additional challenge developed. Some employees learned they could make more money not working and continuing to collect unemployment dollars. Many chose not to return to work at all. As a result, businesses experienced a serious lack of skilled employees willing to work during that period, a problem which has extended to this year. Locating employees willing to work has become a great challenge.(see Topic #3). Attending businesses largely preferred to have all their employees working in person but are realistic that a hybrid model is necessary to retain and attract key employees.
Zoom meetings and conferences allowed employees to stay in touch with management, but also created some unexpected issues – it is very difficult to communicate effectively when you are unable to read the body language of those participating. As well, too many Zoom meetings in one day also strongly affected productivity. There was no time left to perform actual work. Zoom meetings, however, did eliminate the needs for a lot of travel which lowered overhead and increased profits. (See Topic #2, Inflation).
Conversely, businesses also recognized that they have a greater outreach to clients in a virtual environment.
Mental health issues have increased because people who are suffering can’t handle issues online with a therapist. 2 years of remote meetings over Zoom has further increased the suffering. Zoom works best for small company meetings but not for large meetings.
The Non-profit sector appears to have been hit hardest for most issues as they rely on in-person programs and events to survive. Online activities do not bring in sufficient revenues for success.
Attending businesses also believe in the ongoing education of our youth. Young people are losing the interpersonal skills and conflict resolution skills they need to be successful in their professional careers. This is an area in which VIA can be instrumental (See Topic #3. CTS and other professional skills training programs.)
Businesses must offer hybrid work environments to remain successful. Management must be aware there are two different work patterns and find ways to blend them both into company culture.
Businesses must more closely monitor employees working virtually for productivity, engagement, and the possibility of mental health needs.
Zoom meetings continue to be necessary but should be closely monitored so as not to prevent work from being accomplished.
Continuing training and education of the emerging workforce is critical to ensure employers have sufficient skilled employees for the future.
Discussion Topic 2
Inflation is at a rate not seen since the 1970s. How are you coping? How much flexibility do you have? Can you add surcharges? Have contractor’s bid times been reduced? How does inflation affect your business?
Most attending businesses advised the universal experience of cost increases is being passed off to consumers. (i.e., Delivery and fuel surcharge – one business is charging an increase of 28%). Many had to make decisions to cut costs by continuing with fewer employees and less office space.
High interest rates to finance have become increasingly problematic. Some businesses have implemented the creative subletting of space to offset costs with costs shared space between complimentary businesses or day vs. night use or the use of interns or mutual aid partnerships with similar businesses.
All businesses recognized inflation affects consumers who are their employees requiring them to aim for competitive wages and benefits. Leverage is tilted to job seekers right now. Businesses need to include alternate fringe benefits to help recruitment & retention. Wages also had to increase due to the cost of fuel. Employees traveling from adjacent areas were the most affected. Most businesses reported a 10 – 20% increase in wages so far. Valuable employees coming up through the ranks are looking at states with a lower cost of living – they want to be able to buy a house someday. Employers must continue to pay higher wages to compensate and keep talent. Larger competitors have more money to hire talented people.
Costs for travel/materials/wages have gone up as much as 38% overall.
The price of raw materials has skyrocketed (i.e., lumber, and other construction materials). Lead times for those raw materials has increased dramatically as well – those costs must be passed along to clients which affects their bottom line.
Some larger supplies seem to be taking advantage of the situation are price gouging.
In some ways, the work remote policies have offset a portion of the increased inflation. Unfortunately, since the remote work environments started over two years ago, employees have forgotten how much money they are saving hot having to travel into work.
Bids from contractors are now only good for 30 days (used to be 60 days)
Businesses must increase productivity to remain successful.
Businesses must be prepared to renegotiate contracts where possible
Businesses must raise prices when they can be justified
Note: If inflation is affecting your clients, it is affecting you
Companies are not replacing retired positions – simply spreading work across existing employees which carries a psychological impact.
Are we really IN the recession yet or is there more pain to come?
Discussion Topic 3
What are you seeing with new entry level employees? Has that changed? What skills are needed? How can VIA help?
Attending businesses had several concerns regarding the emerging workforce as follows:
Entry level expectations of higher salaries (but without skillset or experience to back that up).
Leverage tilted towards employees (they are well aware of workforce shortages).
A lack of important skills exists. As mentioned above, although potential employees may possess basic hard skills, employers are considering various aptitude tests to identify if employees have the skills they require. Communication and engagement skills are sorely needed. The emerging workforce has difficulty in “reading the room” because they are usually behind a screen. Also critical are communications (both written and verbal), leadership, ethics and appropriate behavior in a business environment. Social skills and accountability were also discussed as lacking. Lastly, attending employers expressed the need to quiet the “quitting trend” among the emerging workforce. Employees in the emerging workforce seem to be less willing to work hard, have a lack of loyalty to their employer and change jobs often. Employers also mentioned the emerging workforce does have an abundance of technical skills but needs to focus on the missing professional skills.
Employers acknowledged Gen Z has much more passion and hope for the future than the previous generation and they feel it is important that local SCV businesses and local education institutions advocate for the future generation.
How can VIA help? Look at wat is working and apply to our programs or partnerships with other entities. (Boys & Girls Club, Hart District, College of the Canyons, Charter and Private Schools, other educational entities). VIA can also help with soft Sills, Upside of professional launch, Appropriate appearance for workplace and other critical skills.
VIA Leadership Program – perhaps redesigned for the emerging workforce.
Connecting to Success to start in MIDDLE SCHOOL. High school is too late.
Connecting to Success is a VERY necessary program.
Entry level employees must focus on their emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, general understanding of finance and self-reflection.
New employees in their mid-late twenties want jobs that “make a difference.”
Technical knowledge is not a replacement for hard work, perseverance and following through on one’s word. Employers must provide a culture where its okay for new employees to fail. Teachers and business owners must set aside the necessary time to engage with supportive correctional actions and take advantage of teaching opportunities. Employers are not seeing a lot of skill in entry level employees, but do see they have finely developed tech skills. Unfortunately, they are not exhibiting the willingness to work hard to use them.
The younger workforce does carry some important critical skills – they are able to catch up with technology much more quickly than the older workforce, however, there is still a learning curve.
Entry level employees also seem to generally have a lack of interaction skills for face-to-face impactful meetings or discussions. As well fundamental financial and communications skills are lacking.
Employers recognize the emerging workforce wants a real work/life balance, Although this has been a topic of discussion for years, the existing workforce does not really have such a balance.
Programs like VIA’s Connecting to Success is a necessary program for future generations. General understanding of personal finances, talking in a group setting, overcoming negativity.
As well, it was felt the aging workforce could have much more impact in helping train the emerging workforce.
Specialized workforce needs to be trained constantly
Interpersonal skills are a continued challenge. Interpersonal skills a problem – texting is not the answer! There is great importance in building personal relationships. Social Media/Electronics should not be a replacement – just an enhancement
Entry level supply is low – price/wage sensitivity (wage expectations) are high
Young people today move from job to job frequently. It is hard to retain – you train them, and they leave. Not much loyalty.
Work Ethic and personality
International Workforce has a higher work ethic
New work force wants to move up quickly without going up the ranks.
Millennials relate to other millennials through their phones – not in person.
Youth have forgotten how to interact with people. Those who joined the workforce just before or during the pandemic have not had the opportunity to learn or utilize the skills they require.
Lack of conflict resolution
Don’t know how to be a part of the team
Great things are happening from all generations – they need to learn how to mesh together
Use of Value & Ethics is missing
Less work Ethic and a big sense of entitlement
Ghost Interviews/ghosting on first day of new jobs
Impact of social media is negative – lack of in person skills/knowledge
Professional failure to launch – no consequences
Career Tech critical
Hard Skills are teachable – soft skills are more difficult to learn
Connecting to Success Critical