Education Attainment Division
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.