Clevelanders need jobs. Cleveland’s industries need skilled, qualified workers. It is unconscionable that the same community can have unemployment and underemployment coexisting with available, family-sustaining jobs.

Cleveland has many unemployed and underemployed people who are yearning for opportunities. Cleveland also has strong industries that are facing a critical shortage of workers to fill available jobs. And the jobs that are available are family-sustaining, career jobs; jobs in healthcare, jobs in skilled manufacturing, jobs in information services and the skilled trades.

And while Cleveland currently has many projects and organizations working to increase training opportunities to alleviate skills gaps, provide tuition assistance, and generally increase job opportunities across the region, we are not solving the problem.

So while the concept of “workforce development” has been discussed for years, it is clear that we now need different strategies and a renewed sense of urgency to solve this problem – and what I believe is the greatest threat to our economy.

The Path Forward for Workforce Development

First, recognize that our inability to properly train and educate our citizens for jobs and careers in our strongest industries is a threat to continued economic growth. I will treat this issue with an absolute sense of urgency.

Second, realize that we cannot fail our children from K-12 and then think a job training program can make them career ready. We need to ask hard questions regarding where we are falling short and why our current programs are not solving the problem.

Third, form a coalition of leaders in industry, education, trades, and affected people to redefine the issue, determine what the economy needs, what is working, and what is not. I will focus on identifying the employment needs of industry and the economy as a starting point. We must then design a community strategy based on the needs of employers to get our residents working.

But industry must be a part of solving this problem. And our education system needs to begin career readiness in grade school and continue within curriculum through graduation.

The Availability of Jobs and Careers

A December 2020 report by Team NEO indicates that there were over 300,000 job postings in Northeast Ohio from March thru October of 2020. Healthcare and social assistance represented about 60,000 of these openings, with the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals posting almost 13,000 of this number.

The most requested core skill was communications (over 79,000 postings) and 80% of the overall postings did not require a postsecondary degree.

However, the availability of jobs is only one aspect of the challenge of a successful workforce strategy. This is a complicated endeavor for multiple reasons – but at least one is that the path from high school, to training or college, to a job and then a career, is not well designed or established. We often hear about the large number of jobs in a particular industry that are not being filled – and some express surprise that this continues to happen – but workforce development is multifaceted.

If you have or know children of high school age, you are well aware of the way that a conversation about choice of study and careers unfolds, and probably how it went for you at that age, as well. Young people are encouraged to finish high school, many to enter college, and many to go straight from high school to a trade or other work opportunity. But the conversation and process for choosing a career as part of that process is still somewhat random.

Our educational system is just not set up to support this process strategically. There is talk of careers, internships, exploring opportunities – but it does not reflect an intentional focus on career paths. And perhaps most importantly, many in-demand jobs and careers may not fit the interests of a student finishing high school and about to take the next step. When the world opens up for those about to graduate from high school, future economic security and stable employment may not be an immediate priority for young people in this position.

This process is an even larger challenge for low-income students and students of color who may not have easy access to internship opportunities or other resources that support the beginning of a career path. And while there are efforts to address this issue, disparities and equity issues remain a problem. Addressing inequity in workforce development is a high priority for me.

And while workforce strategies can focus on young people, we also need to provide meaningful services to all adults, particularly for those who face barriers to employment – such as those reentering the workforce after incarceration, or those facing other challenges from the impact of a variety of social determinants that affect physical and mental health, but impact other aspects of life as well.

Elements That Can Be Built Upon

While the City and Cuyahoga County jointly manage the Cuyahoga Workforce Development Board, which is part of many meaningful efforts to address this problem, city government needs a greater focus on workforce development. As Mayor, I will dedicate greater resources to this effort.

Current strategies underway include the following:

  • CMSD and Say Yes to Education:  The Say Yes to Education program has raised over $90 million from private sources to greatly reduce the barrier of paying for college tuition or job training – as well as wrap-around services – for Cleveland Metropolitan School District students. I also support and will work to enhance CMSD’s efforts to build a career path for students not planning to attend a 2- or 4-year college.
  • Workforce Connect: This is a partnership with the City, the County, local philanthropy, and other stakeholder-funders. It is a strategy focused on three key employment sectors – manufacturing, health care, and information technology – to work closely with employers to understand their talent needs and to support those seeking jobs to get the right training to be ready to work in those industries. I will ensure that this kind of thoughtful strategy is supported and continues to make progress.
  • Cuyahoga County Workforce Development Board: This important community resource provides workforce support for the variety of job seekers – and is well integrated into all local workforce strategies and programs. I will support their efforts to assess future needs and explore how the City can enhance their services.

Future Strategies Needed

  • Mayor’s Office Workforce Position: In addition to the City’s support for the Workforce Development Board, I will appoint a dedicated staff person in the Mayor’s Office whose primary responsibility is supporting workforce development strategies in our community – working with existing efforts and exploring how to take these efforts to a higher level.
  • COVID-19 Workforce Recovery: The impact of COVID-19 has fallen disproportionately on people of color and low-income families – both in health outcomes and in layoffs, permanent job losses, and economic status. Working with the City’s Department of Economic Development, I will promote an inclusive recovery that focuses on racial and economic equity and provides an opportunity for all Clevelanders to recover from this most difficult challenge.
  • Place-Based Approach to Workforce Development: At an Urban Institute conference held in December 2020, place-based approaches were highlighted as a key element of recovering from COVID-19 – but also as a way to revolutionize how workforce development is done. Cleveland needs a neighborhood-by-neighborhood strategy to understand individual community needs and provide workforce service tailored to those needs.

Conclusion

Workforce development is an absolute priority with an urgency that must be elevated in the civic dialogue – because it serves both Cleveland residents and Cleveland-area employers trying to build and expand their businesses.

It is imperative that we pledge to be a constructive partner to those organizations doing work in this area now – and examine how the City can best advance these efforts to come closer to meeting the needs of all Clevelanders, particularly of those populations that have been historically excluded.