How Foresight Can Make a Difference

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I write and talk about the importance of HR professionals being “practical futurists.” I have a presentation that I have made a number of times called “Seven Steps to becoming a practical HR Futurist.” In that presentation I talk about the importance of having the skill set of environmental scanning. Today I present you with an example of how environment scanning and the foresight that was applied to the knowledge gained paid off for one company.

Graduation Rates

The major example I use to demonstrate my steps in the presentation is based on a rural company. I state that the company relies on local high school graduates as the prime source for their needed talent. I then state that they should be aware of the graduation rate of the local high schools and what is happening to students. Are they graduating? Are they prepared to enter the world of work? Once graduated, how many leave and go to college, thus removing them from the labor pool? Do any come back after college graduation or is the rural community a deterrent to finding a “good” job? This is just a scenario exercise I take people through, but today I found an example that has played out in real life.

Recognizing the Problem

Southwire, the leader in manufacturing of wire and cable for power transmission, is located in West Georgia, between Atlanta and the Alabama border. Despite a lot of growth the area is still pretty rural. Less than 2/3 of students in the local schools graduate from high school. Unfortunately for Southwire this was the population from which they drew their workforce, and as technology advance and made more education important, the population coming out of the schools was not keeping up.

According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution by Eric Sturgis and Janel Davis Southwire noticed in the early 2000s that students were not graduating and were not prepared for the world of work. As the authors’ state “The company faced a shortage of people with diplomas and found that those who had graduated were often not ready for work.” Such a finding could have been detrimental to the success of the organization. Just such a problem has caused many companies to shutter locations and move to areas of the country that had higher graduation rates and a labor pool better prepared to come to work.

A Different Solution

Southwire has a long history of being tied to the community in which it was founded. So rather than seeking a solution that removed them from the community they developed one which would produce a better workforce and keep them in their home town. Their solution was to develop a training program that helps young workers finish or improve their education. Working with to local school systems, one in Georgia and one in Alabama, they identify students who are at risk of dropping out and they put them in a program called 12 for Life. As Southwire’s website states 12 for Life is, “.. an innovative program that places at-risk students in real jobs at Southwire, allowing them to earn wages while earning credit toward a diploma.” It is an excellent program that is improving lives and paying dividends for the company.

An Excellent Example

This is an excellent example of a company paying attention to the world around them and exercising foresight. It provides a lesson that all of us should follow. Are you engaging in environmental scanning and looking at the things that are critical to your business? What is happening with education? What is happening with technology? What is happening with your labor force? What are you prepared to do about those issues? Southwire saw a problem and created a solution to the problem, can you boast the same?

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