“We’ve Seen Real Results”: Rural Employer Finds Skilled Talent by Focusing on Skills

When Josh Stewart, owner of Spydor Wood Products in Norwood, Colorado, wanted to expand his small business, he didn’t know how he would be able to find the skilled talent he needed from the area’s limited labor force. Norwood has fewer than 500 residents and the surrounding area, called the West End, has fewer than 1,500.


“Rural businesses that need skilled talent usually try to recruit from outside the area, even out-of-state,” Josh said. “That approach is not only expensive, because you have to consider relocation costs, but it also doesn’t contribute to your community’s prosperity.”


Describing the business as in a “critical phase,” Josh was intrigued when he saw Carla Reams’ Facebook post offering employers help finding skilled talent. Carla manages the Skillful West End Project, an initiative of Skillful and the Telluride Foundation that seeks to help keep rural local talent local.


Josh reached out to Carla and explained his business needs: he wanted to expand Spydor’s offerings to include not only custom, specialty doors but also factory finishing, installation, cabinetry, and more. He needed to fill two positions in order to realize his growth plan: a computer numerically controlled (CNC) operator and a molding operator. He didn’t know where he would get this skilled talent.


When Josh met with Carla, she introduced him to the idea of skills-based recruiting and hiring. When employers work to define precise skills new hires need to succeed in a role, she explained, they deepen their talent pool.


“We don’t have an HR department and so we were glad to have Carla’s help,” Josh said. “She opened our eyes to local, skilled talent by encouraging us to focus on skills. For example, a lot of these people coming out of the coal mine and the power plant, which closed recently, have a great work ethic and many technical skills that can be translated to what other employers are looking for. I realized I didn’t necessarily need people with a woodworking background, but people who want to learn.”


Josh said that skills-based recruiting and hiring has been a “game-changer” for him and his business. “We opened our minds to people from many different backgrounds and ended up hiring two people who don’t have backgrounds as CNC or molding operators. They are two of the best employees I’ve ever hired.”


When the new employees started, Josh made sure to make their onboarding process skills-based: “We were able to quickly figure out what skills they had and what skills they needed to develop in order to be successful here. We’ve outlined a career pathway.”


“We were very happy to hire locally,” Josh said of his transition to skills-based practices. “Not only have we seen real results, we’ve also invested in our community.”