Local business owner Thom Baker seeks to leave Columbia a gift when he retires. Tucked away in his equipment-lain home office, Thom Baker of...
The pool is constantly changing; however, what we’ve seen lately is less and less folks going into skilled trades and more people going into academics over the last decade. This has created a shortage of skilled trades like welders, HVAC workers, electricians, etc. The newest trend is communities building these skilled trades back up, and we’re seeing more tech schools pop up, especially in more rural markets.
2. What’s the biggest mistake people make when looking for a job?
The most common mistake I see is a lack of job focus and preparation. Candidates must be focused on what they want to do, then they have to prepare for the specific opportunity, research the career path, and tailor their resume and search. If you get an interview, do all the research you can on the company and person you’re interviewing with.
3. Do you have a favorite memory from your own experience job seeking?
I was in the banking business right here in Columbia. My employer, Farm and Home Savings, was purchased by Roosevelt Bank. I was told I had an opportunity within Roosevelt Bank for the prior five months, but the day before the deal closed, I was released with one month’s severance. With a pregnant wife and 5-year-old at home and bills to pay, I went to JobFinders Employment Services and Anne Williams told me “I wish I had something more at your level, but let me make some calls.” She called me back in two hours and sent me on an interview in Jefferson City to interview for a loan representative opening at Beneficial Finance. The salary was less than 25 percent of what I was making before, but I needed a job, so I went to the interview and they immediately sent me for a drive to Lenexa, Kansas for a second interview. On the drive home, I was offered a position as a management trainee (even though I had already managed four locations and made loans of up to $500,000), which I accepted. I sat down with my wife and said I’d us back to the income level in three years or less. I became the fastest promoted employee in the company, eventually becoming vice president of human resources. I tell that story to illustrate that even if an opportunity isn’t perfect, you can make the best of it if you have a plan.
4. Columbia’s unemployment rate is low, but how would you describe the Columbia job market more specifically?
With Columbia’s rate hovering around 2.9 percent, it would appear that there’s a shortage of employees, but we always seem to have qualified people for the opportunities we do have. Because Columbia is positioned between St Louis and Kansas City on I-70, we attract a wide variety of positions and companies. Columbia retains many of its university and college grads, so there’s a strong pool of candidates for openings. I speak with a lot of businesses and companies interested in locating to Columbia, and I always tell them Columbia is very unique and we have a great pool of strong employment candidates that’s always growing and getting stronger.
5. What’s something you would like to see more employers do well?
The first day of employment is critical, and we must welcome our employees and be prepared for the first day of training. The new employee needs a mapped-out plan to accomplish results in the job. It’s also critical to offer continued training as the employee progresses —show them the future opportunity, even if it’s an entry level position with few perks. That’s key to retention.
6. What do you value most about your own workplace?
Without any doubt, it’s the diversity of backgrounds and thought. A mentor once told me, “If you and I agree on everything, then there’s one too many of us working here.” I’ve always thought you should establish a common mission or mantra to rally around and then hire the best people you can find. If they’re smarter than you, all the better. At JobFinders, we rally around DWYSYWD — Do What You Say You Will Do — and that makes a real difference. We then try to hire the best and brightest and go from there.
7. Has your approach to your work changed over your career?
With years comes some wisdom, I hope. I think I’ve guarded against skepticism and realized that I can’t do everything by myself, as I once thought as a younger man. It’s only with others that we can accomplish our goals, mission, and purpose.
8. Do you think a college degree has become more or less valuable over time?
That topic has been very controversial as of late with the rising cost of higher education. I still believe that college offers you an opportunity to think differently and become who you are supposed to be and maybe grow up. While many of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time did not finish college, I must say I believe that you tilt the odds in your favor if you get that degree from a college, university, or tech school.
9. What would make Columbia a more attractive place for employers?
Columbia must continue to work on keeping its graduating high schoolers here in Columbia. Many other communities are losing high school graduates to out-of-state colleges and opportunities, and they’re losing companies due to the talent shortage. Keeping the immediate youth in town keeps the talent pool strong for the future, which attracts companies to relocate here.
10. If you had to apply for a job using three words to describe yourself, what would they be?
Today’s employers want employees with a high EQ (emotional intelligence), a sound ethical standard, a team-player attitude, problem solving skills, and intangibles that make them a good cultural fit. My three words are E3 (ethical, empathetic, energetic), team player, and leadership.
11. What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
This is the easiest question — helping people! If meet a person who genuinely wants a job and can’t find one, and you help them find an opportunity, the gratitude and excitement they show is something no words can express. Helping people is the biggest re