Cities Are Taking a Regional Approach to Closing the Skills Gap

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This post is the fifth installment in a series focused on NLC’s Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Middle skills occupationApprentice working with engineer to inspect manufacturing machinery. (Getty Images)

Economic development consistently ranks as a high priority for local officials across the country. Alongside this priority is a growing focus on the need for increased postsecondary education opportunities at two and four year colleges and career and technical education institutes. The leadership of local officials is critical to increasing these opportunities, which in turn can provide a substantial return on investment for their community.

In July 2015, NLC partnered with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce to hold a mayoral summit on postsecondary success in Los Angeles, supported by The Kresge Foundation and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Source: JP Morgan Chase
Source: JP Morgan Chase

The summit marked the release of the Los Angeles Skills Gap Report, which shows that Los Angeles County has a diverse economy with a wide array of middle-skills jobs – those that require a high school diploma and technical training, but not necessarily a four-year college degree. Unfortunately, it also shows that many Los Angeles residents lack the education and skills that employers are looking for. This means that many industries are struggling to fill key middle-skills positions, while many potential workers remain either unemployed or underemployed.

Studies show that this dilemma is playing out in communities across the country. NLC’s own Cities and Unequal Recovery indicates that despite the significant economic growth in cities over the past two years, there continues to be a skills gap.

At the summit, city leaders highlighted the postsecondary success initiatives they are using to combat this skills gap. Robert Garcia, mayor, Long Beach, Calif., showcased the Long Beach College Promise and the Long Beach Internship Challenge to expand on-the-job learning opportunities for young people. Rusty Bailey, mayor, Riverside, Calif., talked about Completion Counts, an initiative that helps students apply for, attend and complete community college.

The city of Los Angeles is in the process of establishing local goals for college success with a number of partners, including the Los Angeles Community College District and several universities in the region. These goals will help ensure that young people have the resources they need to achieve postsecondary success and create a stable and thriving workforce in the city and the greater Los Angeles region.

Like Los Angeles, many cities are adopting a regional approach to close this skills gap. In San Antonio, Mayor Ivy Taylor supports the SA Works initiative, which has a goal of creating 20,000 new applied learning opportunities, including a countywide STEM degree accelerator project through the Alamo colleges, as well as a place-based training program for 300 Eastside San Antonio residents.

This initiative is part of SA2020, a nonprofit whose mission is to help connect the community for a stronger San Antonio. SA2020 has helped create an alliance between City Hall and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce that focuses on regional industry needs, and works to ensure that workforce needs and postsecondary offerings are aligned so that residents have the training they need to take on middle-skilled, well-paying jobs in San Antonio and Bexar County.

A C Wharton, mayor of Memphis, Tenn., established the nation’s first Office of Talent and Human Capital within the mayor’s office to provide dedicated staff focused on developing, retaining and attracting talented workers to Memphis and Shelby County. The mayor has also connected with the business community to provide pathways for residents to access jobs in Memphis’ growing service, healthcare and knowledge-based industries.

Local leaders can play an essential role in developing this approach by investing in activities that strengthen their region’s competitive advantage by:

  • Establishing and maintaining a leadership structure to guide and sustain college access and completion efforts.
  • Setting community goals and rally necessary partners.
  • Maintaining and analyzing real time data on postsecondary attainment.
  • Aligning local industry needs with community colleges and credentialing courses.

To learn more, check out NLC’s page on postsecondary success.

Miles Sandler
About the Author:
Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at Sandler@nlc.org.