Changing the Job Search Process in Huntersville
This post was authored by Jill Swain, Executive Director, Huntersville (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
Huntersville, NC has been growing for nearly 30 years. Located north of Charlotte and at the crossroads of several active highways, Huntersville has positioned itself to be a hub for large business and corporate headquarters. Despite the success of bringing in a strong contingent of larger companies, Huntersville has seen downsizings and restructurings, and citizens sometimes look for employment elsewhere. We have underemployed experienced workers and executive level talent, but our corporate HR departments will spend thousands of dollars on job postings and relocation packages, even though the talent is right here.
With citizens coming to the Huntersville Chamber asking for networking assistance to find local job positions, it became clear that the traditional methods of job searches were not working for our local talent. As a chamber that works diligently to make direct and personal connections, we knew we had to change the job search scenario.
Working with Job Hubbub, our chamber established a local job search board, HuntersvilleWorks.com. We offer free job postings to our members and encourage residents to share the site with family and friends through social media. The site connects directly with Google Jobs, so anyone searching "jobs near me" locally is directed to our local Chamber member open positions.
A more personalized, local approach to job searches also allows our chamber to directly connect people to potential jobs. Although the site is easy to use and self-sustaining, we can monitor incoming jobs and applications and, when possible, make direct connections. The previous mentality of networking and trying to find someone in each company to get a foot in the door is now morphing toward a more direct effort to hire local and stay local in job searches.
We wanted to ensure that the system meets the needs of applicants and employers. Job-seekers receive an update if their application was read, so they didn’t have to wonder if their application went to some national headquarters “black hole”. We have also begun locating job kiosks at local establishments to increase business foot traffic and to make sure that people have access to search jobs throughout town. HR professionals can rate applicants and keep a file for any applications that come in for job positions. With the connection to Google Jobs, clicks to jobs listings on our site also improve SEO for member companies that post jobs on our board.
We are seeing a consistent increase in clicks and usage, currently at over 260,000 clicks a month and rising. We are about to launch a partnership with a local media organization to link our open jobs to their website and publications. Because HuntersvilleWorks has become a connector for our residents, we have developed the application to be utilized for other chambers of commerce. For example, Union County, N.C. is now utilizing the application as UnionCountyWorks.com and has launched with great acclaim.
We created the Job Hubbub platform to be the new way communities link job applicants to open, local positions. In a world of unlimited budgets, we would have launched an advertising campaign to encourage people to shorten their commutes and work where they live. Nevertheless, we are seeing a positive response to this new way of connecting, and offering this amenity has helped us attract new members. We would love to share the same application with any interested chamber. With potential for banner ads and paid chat features, it can quickly pay for itself!
ACCE Partners with National Skills Coalition
ACCE’s new strategic partnership with the National Skills Coalition and its Business Leaders United for Workforce Partnerships (BLU) program pairs BLU’s business-driven skills policy expertise with ACCE’s robust member network to elevate the voice of employers in workforce policy discussions.
With the support of the Ballmer Group and J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, ACCE and BLU will develop a network of seven state-based BLU affiliates in 2019, to be joined by a second cohort in 2020. These BLU affiliates, led by representatives of the chamber community in each state, will be charged with organizing a diverse coalition of businesses and business associations from across each state in order to develop a shared skills policy agenda on behalf of the state’s business community.
BLU will provide infrastructure support and policy guidance to each state affiliate, and ACCE will assist the lead organizations with targeted coalition building and network growth.
Amy Shields Joins ACCE Team
ACCE welcomes Amy Shields as its new senior manager of community advancement. In this role, Amy will lead professional development and peer learning opportunities for ACCE members to help them improve education and workforce development outcomes; pursue sustainable and inclusive economic growth and promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the communities they serve.
“Amy is passionate about our mission and excited to help chambers across the country create positive change,” said ACCE President & CEO Sheree Anne Kelly. “Her strengths in program management, stakeholder engagement and communications make her a perfect fit for this role.”
Amy joins ACCE’s bicoastal team that was formed through a strategic partnership between ACCE and the Los Angeles Area Chamber to leverage the LA Chamber’s expertise in strengthening education systems and ACCE’s national reach and professional development platform. She will manage community advancement programming and work to identify industry trends to showcase the mission-based value chambers bring to communities across the country.
Prior to joining ACCE, she served as program manager for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), overseeing GEO’s publications and managing programs to help grantmakers and nonprofits make a greater impact through their philanthropic work. Prior to that, she worked for the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, an ACCE member organization in Virginia.
Youth apprentices lead the way
The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce launched its Youth Apprentice Program in 2014 to reduce the skills gap and prepare students for local careers. Inspired by a visit to the Alamo Academies in San Antonio in 2013, the chamber partnered with Trident Community College to build out nine pathways, leading to careers in fields like industrial mechanics, HVAC tech and machining.
“The companies here are screaming for talent, just like all over the country,” said Robin Willis, associate vice president of talent pipeline strategies at the Charleston Metro Chamber. “We don’t embark on a new pathway unless it’s a high-demand field, and most of them are high-wage, too.”
The two-year program accepts high school juniors and seniors, who spend two afternoons each week learning career skills at Trident Technical College, and two hours working with host manufacturers. They also work full-time during the summer between grades 11 and 12, while earning a wage paid from the chamber’s Accelerate Greater Charleston fund.
“Right now, there are about 100 apprentices working in our region, and we pay for their tuition, books and supplies,” said Willis. “It’s an advantage to students because they get two years of paid work experience on their resume, 30 hours of college credit and a journeyman’s certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor.”
The program received an extra boost when Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit that helps schools incorporate career skills in their curricula, chose Charleston’s Youth Apprenticeship Program to be a pilot for a new engineering pathway. PLTW chose Charleston because the city’s high schools had already adopted parts of its engineering curriculum.
“We’re very lucky that all of the high schools in our region have paid for this for years, so we already have a pipeline of students in the engineering curricula,” said Willis. “This new pathway offers them a different exit ramp to use their skills, without necessarily completing a four-year engineering degree.”
Willis says the next step for the apprenticeship program will be securing a more sustainable source of long-term funding, which would enable a larger and more diverse cohort of students to participate.
“We want students from every level of society to be able to take advantage of these apprenticeships,” said Willis. “We want students who graduate high school with no plans to participate, because this will give them valuable exposure to great, high-demand fields here in our community.”
Want to be featured in the #ACCESpotlight? Share your story with Ben Goldstein.
LAUNCHing careers in South Central Kentucky
SCK LAUNCH is an initiative of the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce that encourages students to explore local career opportunities, while learning valuable soft-skills at the same time.
“We have about 6,000 open positions in South Central Kentucky right now,” explained Kim Phelps, vice president of communications and public policy at the Bowling Green Chamber. “This is a wonderful place to live and work, but as the community grows, we want our kids to stay, and we want our alumni to come back to work here also.”
The initiative was conceived as an extension of two successful programs in the community: The Leader in Me, which teaches elementary school students about leadership and soft skills; and LEAD, which further develops those skills for middle school students. SCK LAUNCH, in contrast, builds on those programs by exposing teens to local industries to get them thinking about potential careers.
“Our students are learning leadership skills from the time they’re in kindergarten all the way through graduation,” said Phelps. “When they get to high school, it becomes more about laying the hard skills on top of the soft skills, and when students graduate, they will have an industry credential of some kind,” she added.
SCK LAUNCH offers career shadowing to high school students to raise awareness about the variety of careers available in the region. Through the program, teens get the opportunity to tour plants and facilities, meet with employees and observe how they work in their natural environments..
Through “educator externships,” teachers visit companies to learn about the types of jobs offered and the education and skills required. Afterward, they can adjust their curricula and lesson plans to more effectively steer students into local career opportunities.
“A lot of teachers go from high school to college and then straight back to the classroom, so they actually don’t have a clear picture of what they are preparing their students for,” explained Phelps. “These experiences give them context, so they can help students understand why the work they’re doing is valuable.”
Phelps cites the newly-cemented relationship between business and education as the greatest achievement of SCK LAUNCH, and says she hopes collaboration will continue—even after the chamber eventually dials back its own involvement in the initiative.
“One of the things that has been so unique and rewarding for us is having the business and education communities sit down at the same table, look each other in the eye and actually talk to one another,” she said. “At the end of the day, the integration of the career mindset in our schools is really the goal.”
Want to be featured in the #ACCESpotlight? Share your story with Ben Goldstein.
Free E-Newsletters Worth Subscribing To
Ever wonder how ACCE’s Education Attainment Division (EAD) team stays up to date on all things education and workforce development related? We take advantage of the many free e-newsletters available and wanted to share a few of our favorites with you. From equity to fundraising, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a collection of the ones we have found to be most valuable.
Collective Impact Forum Newsletters
Content related to collective impact, includes case studies, tools, and resources from Collective Impact Forum / Note: You must make a profile to receive emails.
Economic & Workforce Development
Content related to economic development, workforce, and labor issues, includes resources curated from around the web and programs of the Council for Community & Economic Research (C2ER).
National Skills Coalition Monthly
Content related to workforce, education, and training policies, includes news curated from the web and resources created by the National Skills Coalition.
Content related to economic development through science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, includes news curated from around the web and analysis from the State Science & Technology Institute (SSTI).
U.S. Chamber Center for Education and Workforce Monthly
Content related to business engagement in education and workforce development, includes resources created by the U.S. Chamber Foundation.
Community College Daily or Weekly
Content related to issues and legislation that affect community colleges, includes resources curated from the web and articles written for the American Association of Community Colleges.
Education Dive Daily
Content related to trends and advancements in either the K-12 or higher education industries, includes headlines curated from around the web.
Content related to research on the U.S. education system, includes original data and research reports from Gallup.
InsideTrack Innovation Bulletin Weekly
Content related to innovation in higher education, includes headlines curated from around the web
Lumina Higher Ed News Daily
Content related to higher education attainment, includes news curated from around the web and resources created by Lumina Foundation.
Equity & Youth
America’s Promise Alliance Weekly
Content related to issues affecting the successful education path of young people, includes resources curated from around the web and a list of funding opportunities.
Content related to economic and workforce policies that affect low income people, includes analysis and resources from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
Philanthropy and Fundraising
Inside Philanthropy Daily
Content related to fundraising strategies, includes insights into funder mindsets and fundraising tips.
Philanthropy News Digest RFP Alerts Daily
A daily roundup of recently announced requests for proposals from private, corporate, and government funding sources / Note: Creating an account allows you to filter your RFP preferences.
Philanthropy News Digest RFP Bulletin Weekly
A weekly roundup of recently announced requests for proposals from private, corporate, and government funding sources
Five-minute (or less) video series on important developments in education policy from the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Pew State Line Daily or Weekly
Content related to trends in state policy, includes news curated from around the web and policy analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Content related to workforce and workplace trends and practices, includes analysis and news from the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM).
Do you know of any e-newsletters to add? Email email@example.com with your suggestion and it will be added to this list.
Three health and wellness strategies your education and workforce agenda may be missing
As education and workforce development (EDWD) organizations are wrapping up annual strategic planning processes for 2016, many are still looking back on their plans wondering what is missing. Seasoned EDWD professionals know all too well that there is no silver bullet when it comes to improving education attainment and developing a talented and competitive workforce, and that various factors affect the talent pipeline; yet, the question of what will most significantly accelerate their organization’s annual goals will hover over their minds throughout the year.
So what could be missing—even from best practice models like cradle-to-career collective impact initiatives, which build cross-sectors partnerships to improve student outcomes? Chances are that what is missing is a comprehensive and well-balanced health and wellness agenda. At ACCE, we see a growing number of chambers of commerce that are championing health and wellness initiatives in their community, understanding that efforts to improve the talent pipeline work hand in hand with improving health.
What’s the connection?
You may be wondering just how critical a health and wellness action plan is to improving education attainment and workforce outcomes, and the correlation between the two is stronger than most of us realize. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that losses in productivity due to worker illness and injury costs U.S. Employers $225.8 billion annually, equal to $1,685 per employee, enough to significantly impact a business’s bottom line. One study, conducted by the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization, even suggests that best-practice workplace wellness practices are linked to better corporate performance (read more at SHRM.org). These findings help us to understand how deeply health affects our workforce.
What is also interesting is that, on the flip side, EDWD significantly impacts health outcomes. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created an excellent Better Education = Healthier Lives infographic, which demonstrates how an individual’s health is greatly shaped by their socioeconomic factors, such as education and income. It states that “Each additional year of schooling represents an 11% increase income. High earnings increase access to healthier food and safer homes, and can even lower uncertainty and stress.”
Recognizing that you cannot advance one agenda without the other, ACCE has identified the following three opportunities for chambers of commerce to incorporate health and wellness strategies into their EDWD efforts.
- Ensuring Children Are Ready to Learn: Chambers of commerce are uniquely poised to work with key education stakeholders and community service providers to ensure that young children receive the quality education and wellness care they need to be healthy and ready to learn by the time they reach kindergarten. By focusing on a community’s youngest residents, a chamber can not only ensure children are set on a positive trajectory to succeed in school and career, but also instill effective wellness habits that will shape their future health—and as an added bonus, help develop a talented and productive workforce capable of competing in the 21st century global market.
- Promoting Workplace Wellness: With direct access to the business community, chambers of commerce can provide employers with the support and guidance needed to implement innovative and effective programs and workplace policies that encourage employees to adopt healthier lifestyles. The benefits of workplace wellness programs far outweigh their cost, and more and more employers are finding that, in addition to helping employees adopt healthy work-life habits, these programs produce more productive employees, help attract and retain talent, build staff morale, combat employee absenteeism, minimize staff turnover and reduce healthcare costs for employers.
- Building a Healthy Community Culture: Chambers of commerce already champion opportunities to raise the quality of life for their residents, knowing their members will prosper as a result. These organizations—which typically represent diverse sectors of the community, including business, non-profit, education, and health and government entities—can offer opportunities for their members to participant in events and/or councils that are focused on improving community health. Strong community health can be the tipping point towards economic vitality and equitable prosperity, fulfilling a chamber’s vision for its community.
Where to start?
For ACCE members looking to develop or expand an education and workforce development agenda that is inclusive of health and wellness, ACCE’s Education Attainment Division has pulled together excellent examples of chamber-led health and wellness initiatives and created a series of communication briefs, which are available on the division’s Workforce Wellness and Community Health Chamberpedia page. The division will be also be providing on-going technical assistance throughout the year and developing additional resources with an expanded online library of health and wellness resources to come this spring, as well as in-person support and education-and-workforce-development-related sessions at ACCE’s 2016 Annual Convention August 9-12 in Savannah, GA.
To learn more about these resources or to share how your organization is championing health and wellness, please contact Analidia Blakely, Education Attainment Division Manager, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Developing Talent in Sarasota
As a pillar of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Sarasota Tomorrow Economic Development Initiative, the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership is using a collective impact strategy to secure 30,000 new degrees by 2020. The Partnership is creating a comprehensive career pathways system, at both the high school and post-secondary level, which enhances area students’ opportunities for career exploration, skills development and placement in high-demand, high-wage careers. As a new Partnership, Talent4Tomorrow is focused on building operational support, research, data, communication efforts and incorporating assessments.
Interview Participant: Steve Queior, CCE, President & CEO, Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce
Q: How did your community begin to focus on Education Attainment and Workforce Development?
Throughout the recession, our region experienced several rounds of painful job cuts, yet we saw employers struggling to fill open jobs due to a lack of talent. We started to feel the pain of this skills gap in our community and began to look at what chambers in other communities around the country were doing to address their workforce issues. Over a period of two years, our Chamber connected with national groups like the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, and learned how communities were rallying together through strategic coalitions. We knew we needed to do the same in the Greater Sarasota Area.
Q: What were the most important factors that helped spur the chamber’s efforts to strategically address local workforce issues?
The most important factors involved having the right people at the table. In addition to private sector employers, our Chamber’s board consists of the school superintendent, leaders from both city and county government, and four college presidents. During our board meetings and retreats, we have the necessary stakeholders listening to employers saying ‘hey, I read about the high unemployment rate; yet I can’t get a precision machinist at my specialty manufacturing facility;’ or ‘I can’t find skilled healthcare workers or construction workers.’ We were able to aggregate these conversations to find that it came down to four industry classifications that were the most in-need of workers. From there, we focused on a dual strategy to re-train unemployed individuals while also developing a long-term career awareness and career pathways strategy for our young people. The next factor was key community organizations- such as the community foundation and Career Edge, a group specializing in adult training and retraining- stepping up to provide funding and operational support.
Q: What are other efforts related to education and workforce development that your chamber leads?
There are four chamber-led boots-on-the-ground efforts:
Internship Database: A portal on the chamber’s website provides a space for employers to post searchable available internship opportunities for students; then we facilitate matches between the two. With support from ACCE’s Lumina Award for Education Attainment, we plan to reengineer this portal to include resources such as a “how to” workshop for employers who have not traditionally utilized interns; and a database with information on internship providers and success rates (i.e. how many of the students who get an internship go onto the next step in their schooling, what impact these internships have on graduation rates and what students go on to do in their careers).
Career Exploration: After eight months of research leading up to the launch of Talent4Tomorrow, we realized a major weakness in our community was that students lacked awareness about potential careers and how to prepare for those careers. Our partners are working on piloting a 6-week “Summer Bridge” program with Road Trip Nation, a group that creates innovative career exploration experiences and resources. Through the program, students receive scholarships covering tuition, books, etc. and complete up to six college credits by taking two courses- including “Student Life Skills,” which is a project-based curriculum developed by Road Trip Nation.
The Chamber is launching a Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) for the Central West Coast of Florida in Fall 2015. During the twenty-one week program, middle and high school students will go on company tours, build a business plan, and launch a legally operating business. Business professionals will serve as mentors and speakers. The program has had great success in other cities, and statistics show that students that go through the YEA program progress in school, earn degrees and pursue productive careers.
Addressing the Skills Gaps: After a labor survey conducted last year revealed a critical skills gap, a coalition of community stakeholders created a curriculum called Precision Machining. The Sarasota County Technical Institute provided the space; local counties donated a third of a million dollars for equipment; and local companies lined up to hire individuals who finished the course. Our manufacturing action team is currently working to bring the Manufacturing Skills Standards Certification into area high schools and has developed a community-wide career awareness campaign for high-demand careers in this industry.
Q: Best practices or lessons-learned to share with other chambers working on education reform?
The Chamber conducted an asset map to assess education needs in our community and get a sense of which organization was doing what. We found that efforts related to early childhood education, as well as those addressing adult workforce training and re-training, were strong. But efforts to ensure middle and high school students were on a path to college needed to be strengthened. Right now the average age that a young person returns to college after entering the workforce directly after high school is 28. This information gave our chamber a focus moving forward.
**More lessons and insights from the 2014-15 ACCE Lumina Award Winners will be available in the upcoming Fall edition of ACCE's Chamber Executive Magazine.
Creating an Information Systems and Technology Education Pipeline
The Greater Omaha Chamber is committed to implementing cradle-to-career strategies that strengthen the talent development pipeline for the region’s highest-need industry sectors. Working with key partners from K-12 and higher education institutions, and their Workforce Investment Board, the Chamber is identifying opportunities to build strong curriculum and programs that support their IT sector, and promote available IT-related education and career opportunities.
Interview Participants: Sarah Moylan, Director, Talent and Workforce
Q: Can you provide some background on how your community began to focus on education attainment and workforce development?
A: The story begins about 5 years ago when the Greater Omaha Chamber received a grant from National Fund for Workforce Solutions. During that time, the state controlled the Workforce Investment Board (WIB), and a lot of decisions weren’t being made from a local perspective. We really wanted to get back to a place where we were directly dealing with the challenges and opportunities that existed in the community. Support from the National Fund enabled us to leverage technical expertise, build capacity within our staff and community partners, and learn from best practices and models other states had utilized in working with their WIBs. Over the next few years, the Chamber worked directly with community partners to create a new non-profit organization outside of the Chamber called Heartland Workforce Solutions. Because of the structure and sustainable system plan put in place through this organization, it eventually regained control of the WIB from the state. From there, we built the American Job Center, a new workforce center serving the region under the banner of Heartland Workforce Solutions. The center houses 15 workforce system partner organizations that provide training and education services. Having these partners and agencies under one roof really streamlines efforts and improves collaboration and communication.
Q: Today, what would you say that your chamber’s most important role is within this body of work?
A: Our main focus is to grow the economy in the Greater Omaha region to help bring prosperity to the people living in our area. To do this strategically, the Chamber has been a leader in convening stakeholders around jobs, labor, and workforce data. Data has been one of the biggest factors driving the decisions and actions of both the Chamber and Heartland Workforce Solutions. We lead with data, and in regards to educational attainment, use data as a platform to help people understand their role in driving change and improving outcomes.
The role we play as a convener brings groups to the table that would benefit from working together to help build a better education system. Within education there are also lot of partners, such as direct service providers, working with students or adults outside of traditional institutions. Our role has been to solidify a system that’s working together—bringing philanthropy, education, government and private business to the table—to help strengthen the education pipeline.
Q: Can you tell me about your chamber's overall education and workforce development portfolio of work?
A; The chamber is leading a three-pronged strategy to build a cohesive cradle-to-career system, ensuring systems and partners are in alignment from preschool to workforce development.
The first leg of the strategy uses data to realign talent development along the P-16 pipeline in alignment with workforce needs. We convene partners to provide data on where the jobs are and what skills they require, and then work on how to realign programs, such as those focused on Information Technology and STEM, to meet those industry needs. An analysis we conducted of workforce needs for our region showed that our talent supply was not meeting industry demand, specifically in areas of IT and engineering. We had a huge demand for that type of talent, but our post-secondary completion rates in those fields were falling way behind the curve. For example, last year we surveyed 156 companies that are looking to hire over 1400 IT professionals over the next 2 years; and the number of students graduating college with those skills is nowhere near that number. The issue wasn’t that students weren’t graduating, but it was that not enough students were getting into the programs that match workforce needs. Therefore, we looked deeply into the kind of career awareness and exposure students get at a very young age that could lead them into post-secondary STEM focused programs, such as IT.
The second leg of our strategy is to grow and retain talent through career awareness programs and marketing strategies focused on engaging individuals at a young age. The ACCE Lumina Education Attainment Award is helping us expand a career awareness campaign that exposes youth to IT and other STEM careers. Marketing and promotion taking place within the schools helps shift student perceptions about IT careers and directs them to outside opportunities to work alongside IT professionals—such as camps, internships and mentorships. We also host Teacher Internships to build career awareness among students. Forty educators work with twenty participating employers over the course of a week to learn about STEM and IT careers and the kinds of skills needed to land those jobs. (See program video here.) Participating teachers are paid for their time and are required to submit new lesson plans that incorporates what they learned from their internship into their curriculum.
The third leg of our strategy is to take on an advocacy and public policy role that drives decision-making at the local level. We were at the table advocating for new leadership within our public school system by: 1) recruiting candidates from the community to run for school board positions; and 2) serving on the selection committee for the public school superintendent. We also recently completed a bond proposal for supporting public schools, which our chamber’s board supported and helped pass locally.
Q: What best practices and/or lessons learned can you share with other chamber professionals working on education reform?
A: Having data to drive your strategies and decisions is huge. It changed the way in which we operated and gave us information that everyone could convene around, understand and utilize. Then, it’s important to understand that the power of convening partners around a common issue and finding opportunities to collaborate is far more beneficial and influential than one could possibly realize. Also, quality relationships take time to build and they require maintenance, but they’re huge for our work! Making relationships a focus of your work and being that convener that brings people together is crucial. Lastly, it’s important to respect different perspectives and what everyone brings to the table. Often when trying to influence or advance an education and workforce development issue, stakeholders will have different experiences that represent all sides and shapes of an issue. Many of us are not educators, yet we’re trying to influence what happens in education, so respect is essential when working collaboratively.
Partnerships Achieving Bold Goals in Cincinnati
The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, among the nation's oldest and largest chambers, is working with the regional United Way to achieve a set of Bold Goals for the community by 2020. With United Way-funded Partners for a Competitive Workforce, the Chamber is helping to develop career pathways to ensure individuals gain the higher skills needed to meet employer demands.
- Mary Stagaman, Executive Director of Agenda 360 and Vice President for Regional Initiatives, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber
- Janice Urbanik, Executive Director, Partners for a Competitive Workforce
Q: Can you provide some background on how your community began to focus on education attainment and workforce development?
A: (Janice) In 2001 our region was marked by a time of civil unrest, exacerbated by a lack of employment opportunities for many individuals in our community. Between 2001 and 2008 many regional initiatives sprouted to address the employment issue—some saw success and some did not. During this time, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions was getting ready to expand their funding to new sites across the nation. Community stakeholders saw this opportunity as a systemic approach to addressing skills gap issues that had been lingering in the community for a long time and formed a public-private partnership to apply for those funds. We launched the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and then in 2011 moved the network to the United Way of Greater Cincinnati for the long-term. Shortly after, we rebranded and reframed our work as Partners for a Competitive Workforce—an umbrella organization that brings together the region’s workforce efforts and aligns them towards a shared mission.
While this work started because of disparities in the community, we were also consistently hearing from employers who had many open positions but could not find people with the right skills to fill them. Feedback from employers as well as residents in the community became the impetus behind the workforce development focus.
Q: How did your chamber become involved?
A: (Mary) The Chamber was at the table for all the discussions that led up to the creation of the original network. We were deeply engaged in a mayoral initiative at the time called Go Cincinnati (an economic development program to create jobs and grow the local tax base) to create a more strategic approach to workforce development. Since then, we have closely aligned to the work of Partners for a Competitive Workforce (PCW) and their network of intermediaries so that we can continue to get people into the labor force and into sustainable employment. Chamber leadership serves on the Advisory Council for PCW. We also created a talent pipeline manager position to ensure there was alignment with the work PCW is doing in the K-12 system. This helps eliminate the possibility for disconnects at some critical points along the career pathway.
Q: Can you tell me about your chamber's overall education attainment and workforce development portfolio?
A: (Mary) It is important to note that we are unlike some of the other chambers in this cohort that received support through ACCE’s Lumina Award for Education Attainment. Essentially, our Chamber outsources workforce development; we rely heavily on organizations like PCW to lead the way rather than duplicate their efforts within the Chamber’s operations. We are partners not only in name; we are deeply invested in the work that they do. Furthermore, because we support the Strive Partnership and other members of a cohort using collective impact as a framework for change, it is inherent that we align the work of many organizations—including our colleges, universities and other community partners—to make sure that together we are consistently moving the needle on education attainment.
As a region, we track at about 30 percent bachelor’s degree attainment overall, which is on par with the nation as a whole. However, we know all too well that 30 percent is insufficient for us to remain economically competitive over time. So, we think it is critical to build awareness of the work that needs to be done to increase education attainment.
One specific area of concern is our African American population, for which the bachelor’s degree attainment rate is 15 percent. This is a compelling example of untapped potential in our region that we believe could be developed, grown and leveraged more effectively in a generation or two if we work to help people become more successful—starting with being prepared for kindergarten.
A: (Janice) The Chamber is deeply involved in a number of community initiatives, and we have a tremendous network of partners all of whom work very closely through the collective impact approach.
In workforce development, we want to increase the number of training programs, workforce readiness programs, etc. to help people achieve gainful employment. Our goal is to move the percentage of individuals gainfully employed from the current 88 percent to 90 percent. You might think that’s only two percentage points, and that’s not much; but that represents 24,000 people, which is going to be a big lift in our community. We strive to work in conjunction with high-need neighborhoods to leverage their assets in order to lift them up commensurate with the goals they have for their communities. We are trying to be very strategic in applying key place-based strategies as well as multi-generational approaches.
Several of the chamber's initiatives have built strong momentum for its goals, including: the Chamber’s regional action plan, Agenda 360 and; the region’s 2020 Jobs Outlook, a shared report that forecasts future workforce opportunities to help guide curriculum and workforce preparation.
Q: How does your chamber and its partners measure/benchmark success?
A: (Mary) Since we are a tri-state region, we measure our topline success across three states: Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. It’s a very complex political landscape that comprises 15 counties and more than 300 jurisdictions. With partners in Northern Kentucky, we started a project five years ago called Regional Indicators, which has become a brand under which we have issued a number of reports. The baseline Regional Indicators Report evaluates the status of the Cincinnati region on 15 key indicators of economic health, which are drawn from consistent and credible sources like the Census, the American Community Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What makes the data particularly valuable is not only seeing how Cincinnati is performing on its own, but how its performance compares against a peer set of 11 other regions that it competes with for people and jobs. We were considered pretty brave when we released the first report in 2010 because Cincinnati was ranked at 10 out of 12 regions at the time. After five years, we have moved up one position in the ranking to 9 out of 12, and have seen considerable improvement in a couple of indicators including knowledge jobs; we are excited about that. The Regional Indicators report has created a really valuable community conversation about how we are stacking up as a region. It creates a sense of urgency to move the needle on the indicators that top-performing regions have in common. One of those is educational attainment.
Q: How are your education and workforce development initiatives funded?
A: (Janice) Our programs are funded by a number of organizations interested in workforce development. The bulk of our operational expenses are covered by funds that are granted to us through the United Way, which is our managing organization, but also from the community foundation and some other private foundations in our region. We get funds to cover programmatic expenses through grants from foundations like Lumina Foundation or from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, which has a Social Innovation Fund grant. We also regularly apply for Department of Labor grants and funds from other local and national funders.
Q: What best practices and/or lessons learned can you share with other chamber professionals working on education reform?
A: (Mary) The use of consistent, credible data is critical to both knowing if you are making a difference, but also to telling a story in a way that resonates and builds buy-in from different stakeholders. There are certainly qualitative measures of improvement that we want to continue to track, but the more that you can translate the qualitative into the quantitative, the better it tracks especially with the business community—in demonstrating the return on investment for different programs. I think that demonstrating this clearly as you make continuing investments into new programs or new initiatives is critical to getting continued funding and wide-spread community support. Underscoring both the mission (i.e. what we’re trying to achieve) and really good metrics is critical to success.