By Armond Budish and Deborah Vesy, guest columnists for Crain’s Cleveland Business
It is the most frustrating economic problem in our region, and it’s been a problem for as long as most of us can remember.
On the one side, we have hundreds of employers with well-paying jobs that go unfilled because job seekers lack the necessary credentials. On the other side is a large population of residents who want to work and support themselves and their families but who don’t have the right skills, credentials and experience to get out of the low-paying-job rut and onto a career pathway that will yield family sustaining wages.
This skills gap is holding back our region’s ability to grow and thrive and leaving too many people in or on the edge of poverty with dim prospects for the future. It’s a critical factor in our ability to attract new businesses and keep existing businesses investing here. Addressing it effectively creates an important opportunity to accelerate economic growth in Greater Cleveland.
Yes, we have several robust nonprofits and government programs focused on workforce development, but employers tell us the efforts are not organized in a way that enables them to collectively talk about their needs or provide them with a reliable pipeline of skilled, qualified and ready to work talent. It’s hit or miss. Yes, a growing number of students are graduating with certificates, degrees and job-readiness credentials, but they are insufficient in number to meet employer demand, don’t quite have the skills that employers need or don’t have clear and actionable pathways to true careers. They also struggle to navigate through the multiple, but often disconnected, available programs. And yes, there are a number of organizations funding workforce training, but they are not coordinated, with each going their own way.
A report commissioned by the Cuyahoga County Workforce Funders Group noted that the most in-demand sectors in our area are manufacturing, health care and information technology (IT). There is tremendous opportunity to connect people to good-paying jobs in these significant industries, and it will require a systemic effort.