Data and research drive Where are the Workers, efforts to create an equitable economy

by | May 10, 2022

By Jacob Duritsky, Vice President, Strategy and Research – TeamNEO

Talent is critical to the success of any region, and in this post-pandemic economy, this has never been clearer. In Northeast Ohio, we face a series of headwinds, like an aging population, a slightly declining overall population, and a workforce that has seen more than 150,000 workers leave in the last two decades (source: Aligning Opportunities). Finding opportunities for Northeast Ohioans to connect to in-demand opportunities, particularly in sectors like healthcare, manufacturing, and technology, has become all the more imperative, as in any given year we see more than 50,000 jobs going unfilled by local workers.

The data, however, is only a starting point. The impacts of the pandemic since 2020 have brought to light and in many cases exacerbated the long-term trends and challenges our region faces, particularly when it comes to equitable access to education and jobs with family-sustaining wages, and overall prosperity. While these challenges are not new, we at Team NEO are shining a spotlight on them through a framework called Vibrant Economy Index.

What is the Vibrant Economy Index?

The Vibrant Economy Index offers a more nuanced and accurate measure of Northeast Ohio’s regional economy and individual prosperity that will help us better identify the opportunities our region has to grow the economy through equitable access to prosperity and outcomes. The VEI compares Northeast Ohio to 12 other markers across the country through six different pillars of data looking at more than 500 metrics.  Talent is one of the six pillars of a Vibrant Economy, and it is always at the forefront of our conversations, including those we have with more than 1,000 companies every year to discuss pressing issues and strategies for regional success.

Since Fall 2021, I’ve represented Team NEO in the Where Are the Workers initiative as the lead facilitator in employer analysis, which includes a regional survey that collected more than 700 company responses in 2021, and a series of follow-up roundtables across the region that drew more than 250 companies to the table to talk about talent in the first quarter of 2022. These efforts have given us a new way to have those hard conversations.

The survey results and roundtable discussions show that the issues businesses face today go far beyond simply wages, the traditional way in which companies tend to think about labor shortages. Now, we are talking about a fundamental shift in worker priorities, and how workplace culture and talent development need to be at the forefront of both attraction and retention strategies to find and keep workers.  One small example is a manufacturer here in Northeast Ohio that has created “parent shifts” to allow for flexibility around childcare schedules.

In that sense, Where Are the Workers is driving the economic development community in Northeast Ohio to refine our definition of success and consider a more integrated approach to employer engagement around talent goals.

Ultimately, as we aspire to create  a vibrant economy, there are four core questions that need to be addressed:

  • How do we grow our base of talent?
  • How do we do so in a way that is equitable?
  • How would equitable growth of the region’s talent base drive innovation?
  • How can we strengthen and leverage the components of our economic infrastructure—e.g., public transit, broadband, etc.—to enable us to achieve equitable growth and drive innovation?

The strategies that emerge as we work to answer these questions will help advance Northeast Ohio and create a vibrant economy. The impact of the employer survey and roundtables—the intentional space and candid examination of today’s talent challenges—will continue to grow as our collaborative efforts around Where Are the Workers culminate in a final report. Individual employers, recruiters, workforce practitioners and economic development leaders will have a clearer line of sight on what we can do differently to advance our region. For Team NEO, Where Are the Workers will serve as a key resource for our employer outreach to drive strategic alignment, coordination, and ultimately, a more vibrant economy for Northeast Ohio.