Toward Sustainable Workforce Pathways
Community Development’s June regional workforce development forum is part of an ongoing effort to address labor and workforce issues in Northeast Ohio.
On June 1, the Cleveland Fed together with workforce investment boards (WIBs) that represent Ashtabula, Cleveland–Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, and Summit Counties convened some 230 professionals for a 1-day forum on the region’s key workforce issues, including skills gaps, jobs in demand, and economic inclusion.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson welcomed the group, joining Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and the Department of Labor’s Christine Quinn, both of whom also spoke. Each leader’s comments underscored the importance and value to the region of successful workforce development efforts. “Too many talented people in the community are chronically underemployed,” noted Budish, adding, “We need multiple, sustainable pathways to connect employers and residents.”
A key aim of the forum was gathering input for an overarching plan to address workforce challenges across Northeast Ohio. Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), enacted in 2015, the region’s WIBs have an obligation to create a unified regional plan to complement plans at the state and local levels.
“With so many stakeholders engaged in some component of workforce development—from educational institutions training students and employers seeking skilled workers to nonprofits that support individuals looking for jobs, the WIBs, and funders—it can be difficult to get a comprehensive view of what’s occurring in our region, let alone ensure that these efforts are coordinated in a meaningful way,” noted Mary Helen Petrus, assistant vice president of the Community Development Department at the Cleveland Fed. “This forum allowed leaders of the WIBs and their consultants to gather the invested parties together, present them with a quantitative look at the region’s challenges, and elicit feedback through small-group discussions about the issues and how best to move forward.”
At the forum, Mark Schweitzer, senior vice president of the Cleveland Fed’s External Outreach and Regional Analytics Department, moderated the opening panels that examined inclusive economic development and provided an economic and labor analysis of the region. One participant, Joel Elvery, a Cleveland Fed economist, presented a new strategy to ensure regional prosperity.
Breakout sessions engaged participants in discussions on a number of topics, including employers’ needs and concerns, incumbent-worker training, the relationship between employers and the region’s institutions of higher education, and developing a youth skills-development pipeline. One particular set of questions focused on individuals who are being excluded from sustainable-wage employment. For what reasons might they be left out—education or skills deficiencies, disabilities, drug use, or felony convictions—and what actions are needed to bring these individuals and awareness of their needs back into the conversation? One recurring lament of those assembled concerned the limited employer participation in the forum. While several offered their perspectives as speakers, there were very few employers in attendance overall. Employers’ input, several noted, is vital to assessing accurately the needs of the region’s workforce.
A final session elicited attendees’ input on a regional plan for Northeast Ohio. Participants weighed in on consultants’ questions regarding the importance of developing a regional plan, using data to best inform workforce development policy, determining key sectors on which to focus in the region, and creating strategies to measure progress and success.
What are some of the reasons for developing a regional plan? Job access is one place to start.
Consultant Jim Shanahan, hired by the WIBs to help develop a plan for Northeast Ohio, asked the audience to consider several statistics concerning job access. “Fifty-three percent of all jobs in the 8-county region are located in Cuyahoga County. Just 44 percent of all workers live within reasonable access to public transportation. And in 3 of the counties—Portage, Geauga, and Lorain—almost half the residents work outside their counties,” he stated. “That’s a pretty good argument for regional cooperation.”
In the wake of the Great Recession, community leaders in the Fourth District have repeatedly ranked jobs as their number-1 concern. In survey responses, they noted that employers have challenges finding employees with the required technical and soft skills to fill open positions at their firms, while jobseekers and the training, academic, and support organizations that provide workforce development services to them pointed to underemployment, lack of transportation access, and non-inclusive hiring practices among the impediments to jobseekers’ gaining full and sustainable employment.
Next steps include the consultants’ sharing their collective notes from and analysis of the breakout discussions from the forum. The regional plan is due to the State of Ohio by September 29, 2016.
Sum and substance: Workforce investment board members and representatives of the Cleveland Fed gathered at a forum in June to offer their input for a plan to address workforce challenges across Northeast Ohio.
The Cleveland Fed’s Community Development Department focuses in part on workforce development issues across the Fourth District. See, for example, Opportunity Occupations in Ohio: Identification, Online Postings, and Employer Education Preferences, “The Prospects of Non-College-Bound Workers in the Fourth District,” and “A Long Ride to Work: Job Access and Public Transportation in Northeast Ohio.”