Mayors Link Education, Workforce Training to Economic Development

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As our 2016 State of the Cities report shows, mayors across the country are becoming increasingly aware of the link between a strong local economy and investment in programs that help residents build workforce skills.

In Newark, New Jersey, over 10,000 residents were engaged in meaningful opportunities linked to learning and workforce development – including exposure to coding, robotics, afterschool assistance and employment training – through the city’s Centers of Hope program. (Miahi Andritoiu/Getty Images)

Economic development and thriving communities are a top priority for mayors across the nation. As seen in the National League of Cities’ 2016 State of the Cities report, elected officials are underscoring the need for access to educational opportunities as well as pathways and training to reach their local economic and workforce goals.

“To have a resilient economy, we must invest in our workforce development, small businesses and neighborhoods – and most of all, we have to invest in public education,” said Providence, Rhode Island, Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Cities across the country are linking education and workforce development. In Richardson, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, new partnerships are being forged between businesses and higher education institutions. And the cities of  Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Paul, Minnesota are building more robust and workforce-centered summer and expanded learning opportunities.

“We cannot expect our existing businesses to grow if we are not providing well-suited employees, and we will continue to work with our local schools and institutes of higher education to ensure we are creating opportunities,” said Covina, California, Mayor Kevin Stapleton.

For the first time, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher make up a larger proportion of the current workforce than those with a high school diploma or less, based on the latest research out of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. The research shows that, since the recession, the U.S. economy added 8.4 million jobs which require a bachelor’s degree or higher as compared to the only 80,000 jobs for those with a high school diploma or less. Research also shows the importance of continued learning to promote educational attainment.

Numerous studies have shown that afterschool programs have a beneficial effect on factors that influence high school completion such as a student’s attendance, behavior and academic performance. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning conducted a meta-analysis of 68 studies of afterschool programs and found that, when compared to their non-participating peers, students participating in a high quality afterschool program demonstrated improvements in a number of areas, including better school attendance.

Cities are utilizing a variety of resources, including existing summer and out-of-school time programming, to engage citizens of all ages to not only learn subjects but to build employable skill sets. In Newark, New Jersey, over 10,000 residents were engaged in meaningful opportunities linked to learning and workforce development – including exposure to coding, robotics, afterschool assistance and employment training – through the city’s Centers of Hope program. Hire Newark Employment Ready Boot Camp, one of the many offerings at the Centers of Hope, connected employers with individuals to work on skill development and provided a bridge to training and employment. In St. Paul, Minnesota, over 20,000 youth were connected to over 90 different organizations with various levels of exposure to learning through the Sprockets out-of-school time network, and the city has discovered the link between programming and increased achievement in schools.

Cities are also forging partnerships that combine the expertise of local colleges and universities as well as local employers to meet workforce needs. Austin, Texas, looks to link education and workforce building in a new strategic plan centered around economic needs while also addressing barriers to college completion. In Tucson, Arizona, the city partnered with the University of Arizona’s Tech Launch Arizona and formed a Commercialization Advisory Network of 750 industry professionals available to guide tech entrepreneurs in the city. The program has already received 200 patents, executed 86 licenses, and created 12 new startups in biotech, materials science, software and publishing.

As cities continue to innovate and build thriving communities, NLC supports these efforts through peer-sharing, technical assistance and resource creation. Look for more education and workforce solutions as the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families takes on this burgeoning body of work beginning this fall. For more information, contact Dana D’Orazio at DOrazio@nlc.org.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about housing.

About the Author: Dana D’Orazio is the Program Manager for Postsecondary Education in the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.