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An Opportunity to Enhance Collaboration and Cooperation within the Northeast Ohio Workforce

I started a summer internship at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland on May 31, only about 48 hours after I made the trek from the southeastern region of Virginia to Northeast Ohio (affectionately referred to as “NEO”). Exactly one month ago, I graduated from the University of Virginia (UVA) with a BA in Spanish (with a concentration in linguistics and philology) and a BA in global studies (with a concentration in public health) and completed my first year of graduate school. After I completed a course titled Public Health — Law, Ethics, and Policy that challenged my thoughts about and understanding of healthcare policy, I decided to apply to the accelerated master of public policy (MPP) program offered through the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at UVA. Through this program, I was afforded the opportunity to complete my first year of grad school while concurrently completing my fourth year of undergrad. Based on my academic interests and my community service experiences, the Community Development Department's efforts “to build partnerships and provide training and technical assistance to bankers and community development practitioners” captivated me. This internship provides me with opportunities to work in a culture that values community input and economic development and to apply academic learning to real-world experiences.

On June 1, my second day on the job, I attended the 2016 Northeast Ohio Regional Workforce Development Forum at Corporate College East in Warrensville Heights. This event brought employees and employers together to discuss potential ways to address labor and workforce issues in Northeast Ohio. Now, you may be curious as to why the Community Development Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland cosponsored this event. There are a couple of reasons. First, and what I quickly learned during my first week at the Fed, is that the community development team frequently brings together academic professionals, area nonprofits, and local organizations to discuss current challenges and potential solutions. Our team convenes such events in an effort to facilitate communication, collaboration, and cooperation that ultimately can lead to improved outcomes for individuals and families in low- and moderate-income communities. Second, and more specific to this particular event, the Fed's Community Development Department has focused over the past couple of years on developing a greater understanding both of challenges within the complex workforce development system and of how these challenges impact individuals in low- and moderate-income communities.

Thus, it was a natural fit for the community development team to partner with workforce development boards from Ashtabula, Cleveland—Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, and Summit Counties in cosponsoring the Northeast Ohio Regional Workforce Development Forum. Over 230 workforce development practitioners, city leaders, funders, researchers, employees, and employers attended and participated in stimulating conversations about regional workforce challenges and potential ways to address these challenges. This event included guest speakers such as Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University and an institute fellow at the American Institutes for Research; Fred Dedrick, executive director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions; and others. Professor Holzer's speech focused on the need for greater communication and collaboration between the education system and the workforce. He mentioned some challenges that many students (who will serve as future employees) face such as the current developmental-education system and the system for determining financial need, as well as potential policy solutions to alleviate these challenges such as reforms in financial aid allocation and developmental education. Additionally, the forum included multiple breakout sessions in which participants formed small groups in which to share their perspectives and to discuss initiatives that successfully have addressed current challenges in the workforce, as well as the role that employers and education systems play in preparing and training workers to meet the needs of local businesses. Based on closing remarks from attendees, it appears that one of the most important steps moving forward is to promote cooperation and strengthen the relationships among economic development entities, community colleges, institutions of secondary education, and intermediaries.

For the stakeholders involved in the Workforce Development Forum, I believe this was an important opportunity to provide feedback to contribute to the development of a regional workforce strategy. For me, this event served as an opportunity to develop a better understanding of a topic that I have not often discussed in an academic setting, as well as to gain a greater appreciation for the Community Development Department's mission and role within the community.