Minority and women-owned businesses in the Memphis area are having the same issues with workforce development that FedEx and other larger corporations face, said Jozelle Luster Booker, president of The Mid-South Minority Business Council (MMBC) Continuum.

So when MMBC Continuum members met at the beginning of the year to set the agenda topics for 2019 quarterly meetings what floated to the top was a late-March seminar featuring resources and strategies to help minority and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs) train and build their workforce.

“FedEx is piloting a program to import workers from outside of Memphis to fill jobs at their Hub,” Booker said, moving to put the recently held seminar in context. “Small businesses have the same problem with gaining access to people, a skilled workforce, on a smaller scale. This is their most pressing challenge.”

Solution? The MMBC Continuum first quarterly seminar held (March 21) at the Memphis Bioworks at 20 S. Dudley was designed as a solution step.

“There are so many building and construction projects in the downtown area right now,” said Booker. “Small businesses need access to the people, or the workforce, who have the skills to take on larger jobs. Whether contracting with larger suppliers of materials and delivery of services, a trained workforce having the skills to do the job is imperative.”

Building a larger workforce leads to the ability to handle bigger jobs.

Besides presenting MMBC members with workforce development remedies, the seminar featured a testament that available resources already provided by various entities actually work.

Willie Frazier, owner and proprietor of A-1 Electrical, explained how the Workforce Investment Network (WIN) helped develop his workforce so that he is able to employ a larger number of staff and increase the size of jobs his company can now manage.

“Electrical work involves highly specialized skill, and there was not a trained workforce to handle that kind of work,” said Frazier. “And so I went to the Workforce Investment Network and applied for a grant. This particular grant is the ‘On-the-Job-Training Grant.’”

Frazier was no expert in how to access resources made available through the American Job Center and WIN. Like many small businesses, A-1 Electrical was operating as a lone entity.

“When these resources are made available to us, these organizations become our  partners,” said Frazier. “I went down and applied for the grant. The staff was extremely helpful, especially Reginald Alexander. They provided support throughout the process.”

Frazier was awarded the grant, a little better than $13,000.

“With the grant, I was able to scale up and leverage our training program,” he said. “We even have an apprenticeship program where we take those who have zero skill level and we begin training them in the basics. Maybe they don’t want to train four years to become a full-fledged electrician. But they can be trained in maintenance skills to work as a maintenance engineer for a hotel. This was not only about building my business, but it was also about giving to my community.

“Electrical and maintenance skills can be taught to people who might need a second chance after incarceration,” said Frazier. “Someone had to take time with me, and we are obligated to help wherever we can. If we can train people with the skills to go out and get a job and support their families, that is what we want to do.”

Frazier began encouraging other small businesses to build their workforce from untraditional sources.

“Churches might be a good source for building a workforce for some businesses,” Frazier said. “Community investment also involves a commitment of time, not just our resources for training. We can be the change we want to see in our own communities.

“We as small businesses can help address our own problems. There are resources to help us expand our reach, and we need to take advantage of them.”

Regina Morris, owner of ABC Charter Services, had no idea WIN offered such an array of services to business people before she attended the seminar.

“I operate a company of school buses. …Roderick Woody manages their services and he talked about a number of resources I believe would help us to strengthen our business as well as expand.

“The recruitment services would be very useful to us. They assist planning job fairs to generate qualified candidates, and Mr. Woody said they can help us train existing employees. There are training funds to help existing employees increase their value to the company by learning additional skills.”

Businesses also can receive up to 50 percent of the wages of eligible trainees during the training period, Morris said. “We were also told our businesses could be eligible for a tax credit, if we hire someone from certain groups, such as veterans. It was so exciting to find out all the helpful resources we can apply for.”

WIN Executive Director Kyla Guyette said the Workforce Investment Network is committed to engaging and preparing the highest quality workforce for the Greater Memphis region.

“We seek to help employers maintain and expand their workforce by up-skilling current workers and filling a pipeline of qualified local talent to encourage growth,” said Guyette.

“Individuals can access free training, resources and career guidance to find employment or take the next step in furthering a career.”

(For more information about the MMBC, call 901-525-6512.)