5 questions with Shannon Full

Shannon Full, the president/CEO at the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce, has played a key leadership role in helping her members come to terms with Minnesota’s skills gap. She has almost 20 years of industry experience, along with expertise in chamber leadership, economic development, talent solutions and management.

How did the skills gap and the worker shortage in general hit your radar?

Over the course of time, the talent shortage has gotten more severe, and more and more chambers of commerce have convened to address the issue through solution-based strategies. It hit my radar when I returned to this market about 18 months ago. TwinWest did a needs assessment and asked our businesses what top challenges they were facing. In every response, talent retention was listed as the top or second from top challenge— whether it was a small, medium-size, or large business, whether it was retail or manufacturing. It’s no longer just certain industries. The results of the assessment gave us momentum to do some strategic programming around the skills gap issue.

It is a multi-faceted challenge. What can a chamber do?

Addressing the challenge is definitely in our sweet spot. Talent programming is one of the top things chambers all across the country are working on, and depending upon the individual community, the programming is really focused in a few different areas. The first is around the future talent pipeline. We can look for talent in the K-12 space and in post-secondary institutions and play a role in developing and retaining those future workers.

Chambers have traditionally tried to appeal to their area’s workplace culture.

We try to help individuals new to the area acclimate to the region—not just employees, but their whole families. There are always trailing spouse issues and family issues, so we also connect newcomers to education, faith-based opportunities and volunteer opportunities.

Some say the worker shortage is really a matter of demographics and population shortages. That seems like a particularly troubling conundrum.

I’ll give you a real-life example of what TwinWest is currently doing in the K-12 space. We’re hearing that we need to make it easier for businesses to engage with educators, students and parents, both in the classroom as well as externally—streamline the whole process and provide skills-based opportunities for them to engage in. Because we need to build our talent pipeline, we need to enhance and change the perception about particular industries.

Describe your skills event.

Our fall Talent Symposium was September 19. We were able to coalesce a really strong team of business leaders, educators and programmatic leaders in the talent space to strategize on efforts to meet the state’s short and long-term talent needs. We talked about our K-12 technology platform and identified ways to collaborate and strengthen the talent pipeline while retaining more great talent in our region. And the final piece of our event was a gubernatorial candidate debate on workforce issues. The debate focused on education, business, and Minnesota’s talent shortage. We want tremendous leaders who know about the workforce problem to emerge and talk about solution-based strategies.