Why Workforce Development Matters for Mayors

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For the past five years, NLC’s Center for City Solutions has analyzed mayors’ state of the cities speeches, which highlight the priorities mayors are focusing on. The 2018 State of Cities (SOTC) report has a sample of 160 mayoral speeches between January and April 2018 and includes cities of all population sizes and across geographic regions.

Economic development has been the most mentioned topic for mayors for four years in a row. This year, 58 percent of state of the city speeches included economic development as the top priority for mayors, emphasizing the importance of workforce development to build equitable and inclusive cities. Along this same line, 28 percent of state of the city speeches included coverage of education issues like career training and development, which is part of a holistic workforce development strategy.

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According to the Federal Reserve Banks of Kansas City and Dallas, “the workforce development system trains, educates and provides social services to working-age individuals to enable them to succeed in the labor force and, at the same time, meet employers’ demand for quality talent. The primary role of this system is to function as an intermediary ensuring that employers, trainers, service providers and participants work together to meet their individual and collective goals.”

In order to be proactive in connecting people with training opportunities and jobs, cities and towns are following a “people-first approach” — meaning the primary focus of workforce strategies is not job creation and placement but rather the needs of residents.

In order for cities to put people first, there have to be strong partnerships among different stakeholders including local government, local and regional economic development departments, chamber of commerce, industry, nonprofits/foundations, state and local workforce development boards, post-secondary institutions, k-12 schools, community-based organizations, youth development organizations and service/training providers.

Putting people first in economic and workforce development initiatives has especially been a priority for cities participating in the Rose Center Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship program. This fellowship aims to influence economic development policy and practice so that equity, transparency, sustainability and community engagement become the driving forces behind municipal projects. The fellowship convenes economic development and city leaders from six U.S. cities for an annual program that emphasizes leadership development, technical assistance, peer learning and team reflection.

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2018 EED Mayors on Workforce Development

In this year’s SOTC, five of 12 EED mayors highlighted how they are prioritizing workforce development initiatives in their communities:

  • Mayor Adler, city of Austin: “To help the working poor get out of poverty, we have to help train people for better jobs. That’s why I hope this year our council will adopt the Master Community Workforce Plan. The Master Community Workforce Plan will focus on helping 10,000 economically disadvantaged individuals achieve financial stability and success through employment in middle-skill jobs.”
  • Mayor Walsh, city of Boston: “Our Office of Workforce Development has trained nearly 3,000 Bostonians for good jobs with living wages. It’s empowering thousands more with credit and wealth-building tools. And now we’re building a program called City Academy to train and place Boston Public School graduates in good city jobs.”
  • Mayor Fisher, city of Louisville: “KentuckianaWork, the region’s workforce development board, is also an integral partner, along with the Greater Louisville Inc. (Metro Chamber of Commerce), with Jefferson County Public Schools – JCPS’ Academies of Louisville initiative. This is a new partnership between JCPS and businesses, aligning employer needs with classroom curriculum and positioning our young people for great jobs.”
  • Mayor Barrett, city of Milwaukee: “This year, dozens of unemployed City residents will acquire marketable work skills and benefit from specialized job counseling through Compete Milwaukee. Compete Milwaukee is a partnership between the mayor, Common Council, workforce development agencies and private employers, created in 2014, with the goal of connecting unemployed and underemployed Milwaukeeans with employment opportunities. Our goal is to launch people like Antwain Childs into family supporting jobs upon completion of the program.”

Case Study from Charlotte, N.C.

The city of Charlotte was part of the inaugural cohort of the EED Fellowship in 2016. During the fellowship year, we advised the city to promote economic opportunity for Charlotte residents through targeted job training and support for small business development.

The EED Charlotte fellowship team developed a project proposal focusing on promoting economic opportunity for all residents using a four-pronged approach that included building small business capacity, developing talent, incentivizing business investment and revitalizing the business corridor.

As part of the fellowship work, the city finalized the “Partners for Inclusive Employment and Career Excellence” Project (PIECE), an adult talent development program delivered in collaboration with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and the Urban League of Central Carolinas that will target individuals with multiple barriers to employment. The program was created in 2017 by city council and staff as a three-year project, with $1 million in city funds, to support small construction-related businesses (construction, fiber optics, and highway construction) by training individuals and providing access to candidates with specific labor and trade skills.

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In 2017, Project PIECE trained 154 individuals, graduated 135 and placed 117 in jobs. Over 50 companies were engaged and over 30 are currently active, including city departments such as Charlotte Water, Aviation and Transportation.

Additionally, the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program provided training for 1,006 students, placed 411 students in paid summer internships and provided 3,264 other career and work experiences. As part of the program, more than 212 businesses provided work experience to youth. These are great examples of partnerships working to ensure talent development programming by connecting employers to potential employees.

Workforce development strategies put people first, focusing less on job placement and more on creating career opportunities. And as we’ve seen, this approach creates a boon for business, too.

carlos_ready About the Author: Carlos Delgado is the senior associate for the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use at the National League of Cities.