SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – As more and more jobs become available across Missouri, hopeful employees have the desire to fill those slots, but face a number of barriers to moving up in their career.
“I would have to walk a couple miles just to get to work, and then it starts raining, snowing– bad weather makes it hard,” said Penmac employee Richard Gomez.
Gomez and his wife Bobbie Dover-Gomez have found work through Penmac, an employment agency, for nearly two years.
“We’ve had to find somewhere close in town to work, and we’ve done that before and it’s real difficult,” explained Dover-Gomez as she entered a white van that drops herself and her husband to work.
The couple does not own a car, instead, riding the shuttle provided by Penmac that picks them up right from home and takes them to their jobs at Jordan Valley Health Clinic.
“You have to call the driver two hours before you have to be at work, and we’re always on time,” she said.
The van service costs $7 a day, automatically deducted from employees payroll. Stuart Stringer is VP of operations at Penmac, and believes the shuttle service – that has been available for 30 years – draws in employees who otherwise couldn’t make it to work, and retains them.
“It’s kind of evolved into more of a resource for employees, some take advantage of it for their entire tenure of working for us, and others just use it on an emergency basis,” said Stringer.
For car-owners, getting to work on time is not a main concern, but some employees must find other transportation. The public bus is limited to some neighborhoods and time consuming, and taxi service is often too costly.
“It is a great resource for us, a great resource for our employees, and a great resource for the companies that use us because they are allowing people to get there,” explained Stringer.
Kelly Costen drives one of Penmac’s four vans in Springfield– picking up and dropping off employees throughout the day. Costen has seen employees’ lives change using the service, some even saving money to buy a car of their own.
“They give us a heads up, give us their address, and we pretty much take it from there,” the driver said.
Transportation isn’t the only barrier facing the workforce today. Francine Pratt is the director of Prosper Springfield, and works to find solutions to issues facing Missouri’s workforce development.
“I think what is key anytime you have your major leaders say, ‘this is what we need to focus on, and these are the main pathways that we need to focus on’, then we can get our nonprofits and our employers to also follow those pathways,” said Pratt.
To combat barriers like little access to secondary education, programs like Springfield Public School’s dropout recovery initiative and OTC programs for completing unfinished credentials, create an arena for additional education to become more attainable.
“One of the things that we’re finding is if someone has not had modeling at home, to know how to get up and go to work, how to interact in a team– it can be a challenge,” said Pratt. “We’re finding that [employers are] hiring people, and they can get people in the entry-level– but trying to get people to that mid-level job requires additional skills.”
Pratt believes Springfield is on the right track to decreasing barriers, re-shaping employers’ views and filling openings with employees willing to brave the elements for a better life.