Jill Rizika is executive director
of Towards Employment.
The Fund for our Economic Future's "Where Are the Workers" report characterized the current NEO workforce as "aging, more diverse and not making enough money." Team NEO's 2021 Misaligned Opportunities report notes that minority workers, and in particular Black workers, were underrepresented in all aspects of preparation for and access to higher paying in-demand jobs.
These reports point to the urgent need to focus on a) investing in supportive on-ramps to prepare young talent, talent of color, and other untapped pools of talent for access to in-demand jobs, and b) making more jobs "good jobs" that embrace the presence of a more diverse workforce.
A "good job," according to the Aspen Institute, is one that offers three key things: economic stability (family sustaining wages and benefits, fair reliable scheduling, safe working conditions), economic mobility (clear pathways to advancement, wealth building opportunities) and opportunity for equity, respect and voice.
Towards Employment works with 2,000 people a year seeking economic mobility though a "good job" who in many cases have been overlooked by mainstream recruitment efforts. Most have low incomes but bring assets that belie the typical characterization of "low skilled." Some are working to obtain their first job or re-tool after a long absence from the labor market. Others are looking to improve their circumstances by advancing or moving on to a "good job."
Take Timothy, a young man who had a difficult start to life, with neither of his parents able to provide stability or support. He was homeless, and had a criminal history and no job experience. But Timothy had a GED and motivation to change his circumstances. With the right supports, he gained both technical and soft skills, accessed stable housing and health services, and built a reliable social network as he paved a new life for himself.
He is now a full-time worker at a local manufacturer who has created a supportive culture for individuals with challenging backgrounds, recognizing Timothy's potential.
What can employers and workforce system partners do to find new talent like Timothy and create these kinds of pathways to a good job?
Invest in supportive on-ramps: Supportive on-ramps bring employers and workforce development organizations together to address both the "social determinants of work" and the education and skill development targeted to specific jobs leading to family sustaining career pathways.
Just as health care is about more than medicine, getting and keeping a job is about more than just education and skills. As Timothy's story underscores, it also depends on a host of factors that impact an individual's ability to take advantage of a given job opportunity, such as safe and stable housing, reliable and affordable transportation, and access to health care and to affordable and dependable child care, as well as to internet services and to a social support network.
Paid training, employer-sponsored training or ongoing on-the-job training such as apprenticeships are critical as many workers cannot afford long, unpaid training programs.
An example of supportive on-ramp programming is Towards Employment's partnership with University Hospitals targeting talent from East Side neighborhoods. It led to a reduction in interview-to-hire ratios and a 10+ percentage point improvement in one-year retention for key entry level positions. Access to Manufacturing Careers is another. This program of the Cleveland/Cuyahoga Manufacturing Sector Partnership provides contextualized soft skills, robust wraparound supports and employer-defined manufacturing skills training targeting young people and those with records. There are now three established sector partnerships working to address talent needs with a focus on equity.
Make more jobs "good jobs": Attracting and retaining new talent and creating a more equitable economy means not just fixing the "workers" but also fixing the "work." Asking workers what is important to them is fundamental. A response to what we've heard from workers that is also reflected in "Where Are the Workers" is the Employer Resource Network model. An ERN is an employer collaborative that pools resources to provide an on-the-job success coach who offers assistance with work/life issues to all employees.
The success coach works on site to a) address many of the social determinants of work that can cause stress and derail a worker's performance, b) provide financial literacy and other essential training and connect workers to community resources; and c) support worker professional development goals. For more information on the NEO ERN, see www.towardsemployment.org.
Our community is at a critical juncture. We must recognize that business success is tied to creating good jobs for new pools of talent, like Timothy. Let's get to work.