Like many civic leaders across the country, we are looking for solutions that allow us to deploy our resources most strategically in order to prepare people for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

This spring, Living Cities is excited to share a curated blog series that profiles field leaders’ responses to questions about what it takes to prepare low-income people for quality jobs. These leaders represent financial institutions, foundations, non-profits, the public sector, and employers. This series will offer a diverse set of perspectives on workforce and economic development opportunities and challenges across the country, and is part of a larger effort to inform the future of our emerging efforts to increase the number of low-income adults prepared for quality employment.

Recent research tells us that innovation and education are critical to long-term economic growth (income, gross metropolitan product and productivity), and that more must be done to ensure that low-income people are prepared with the skills they need to compete in today’s marketplace. But here at the Fund for Our Economic Future, a collaboration of philanthropic organizations in Northeast Ohio, our investments in human capital still can’t compete with the billions of state and federal dollars that support highly fragmented workforce and training systems. Our members represent about fifty national and local foundations and institutions in and around Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Canton, yet collectively we represent only about 5% of funding for workforce and training in the region –and even that’s probably a generous estimate. Like many civic leaders across the country, we are looking for solutions that allow us to deploy our resources most strategically in order to prepare people for the jobs of today and tomorrow. We’ve landed on two approaches that we think are important to share: 1) cross-sector partnerships_ within_ the workforce system, and 2) partnerships beyond the traditional workforce system.

_Within Workforce: _ To best leverage our dollars, we seek partnerships across geographies and across public, private, non-profit sectors in order to align strategies and funding around “what works” in workforce development to bring it to scale. [Yes, Living Cities, it’s about collaboration and systems change!] For the Fund, this means investing in coordinated, employer-connected and sector-focused education and training such as the WorkAdvance Initiative that has potential to inform federal workforce policy (to be covered in a future blog post). It also means working with the business community –both small and large firms alike- to identify gaps in the current system (e.g. soft-skills training, employer engagement, post-placement support), and set realistic short and long-term goals to address them, such as increased labor force participation in economically distressed communities or above-average income growth through job placements, promotions and wage increases.

_Beyond Workforce: _ Efforts to promote more effective job training and education programs cannot happen in isolation. Job creation and job access are also key complements to a robust and inclusive workforce development system. For example, if one objective is to place 200 low-to-mid skill workers in open manufacturing and healthcare jobs, and partnerships are in place with community colleges, institutions and employers to train those workers, what good will it do if these skilled workers can’t get to the job locations? If strong community college systems and good public transit exist but no jobs are being created, what good are those investments? Thus, we propose a Growth & Opportunity framework that bridges the ‘growth’ and ‘opportunity’ disconnect.

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It asserts that sustained growth can only come through cross-sector strategies that reinforce connections among workforce and training efforts (“job preparation”), employer demand (“job creation”) and the spatial and social disconnect between jobs and workers (“job access”). In short, a region’s competitiveness doesn’t just hinge on education and workforce, just as long-term co mpetitiven ess doesn’t just hinge on job creation.

This week, the Fund joined with partners from the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Cleveland to introduce a Growth & Opportunity Initiative, announced Wednesday at the Bridging Growth & Opportunity Conference in Philadelphia. We hope you might join us in exploring how this framework translates to action not only in Northeast Ohio, but in communities across the country.

For more information or to sign up for our monthly Growth & Opportunity updates, please contact Sara Lepro ( slepro@thefundneo.org).

Emily Garr Pacetti is Director of Research & Evaluation for Fund for Our Economic Future.