Real People, Real Jobs

Putting people to work, or back to work, in living wage jobs with supportive benefits is the best way to achieve both economic growth and social justice in our fragile, post-recession environment. Investing in our workers is key, so I thought that doing a summer article on workforce and workforce development would be easy and straightforward. But of course, it’s not that simple.

If you search on the topic of “workforce,” you get more than 60,000,000 Google results, and find 5,449 books at Amazon.com – including a gem that claims to “explain in straightforward terms how to navigate the skills gap of your current workforce to build competent human capital capable of executing both tangible and intangible marketplace strategies.”

If my 9-year-old grandson, Vincent, were to read that, he’d tell me, “That’s crap, Grandma. It’s just crap.” He’d be right.

Let’s break it down and take it head on. What we must do is provide real training that gives real skills to real people so that they can get real jobs. Training plus people equals jobs. On this everyone can agree.

My friends in economic development say that “short-term training to meet immediate needs” must be coupled with “ongoing work readiness.” Those in industry tell me that it’s a combination of “technical training plus leadership training” that they require. Labor concurs that it’s “providing education and training to workers who can then make the most of their opportunities.” And they all share the sentiment that it’s truly unfortunate that the term “workforce development” all too often has come to be associated with programs that provide no real long-term benefit to the habitually unemployed.

Our emphasis must, therefore, be on people, not “FTEs” or “enrollment contracts” or “classroom slots” or “WIA GPRA targets.” These are real people, our neighbors, who generally fall into one of two categories: people who have aged out of meaningful, current skills and people who lack basic skills altogether.

For those in the first category who just need to sharpen or bulk up their skills, we can achieve big bangs for our bucks with targeted private sector training programs that focus on specific technical skills and attract and retain jobs. For example, Franklin County has offered three Workforce Innovation Training Grants, totaling $450,000, which have directly created 1,325 new full-time, living-wage jobs. That’s $339.62 per person. What an incredible return on our invested dollars – and more importantly, what an incredible impact in the lives of 1,325 people, their families, their children, and their communities. ROI? Sure thing - $339.62 invested once returns $875 in income tax and $797.52 in total sales tax annually. Never mind the self-esteem, community enhancement, neighborhood pride, and other intangible benefits.

The second group of our neighbors, those who lack basic technical and life skills, need a more intensive investment. Many of these folks are fighting chronic poverty and incarceration, and we are working diligently to bring reentry efforts and dollars to our community to provide individualized training for these residents. Since 2011, we have invested nearly $850,000 in reentry support and education efforts, changing 258 people’s lives, restoring families, and creating more stable and safer communities. Oh, and if you need the ROI on this one, it’s off the charts - $3,285 per reentry resident, as a one-time investment, yields annual taxpayer savings of more than $35,000 in saved incarceration, foster care, Medicaid, and other social services.

We also are targeting this population while they are young, before chronic unemployment, underemployment and adjudication have a chance to set in. This year alone, we are investing over $4 million to provide summer jobs and training to nearly 2,000 local young people. The specific jobs they have may or may not stick with them, but the soft skills – a strong work ethic, teamwork and communication skills, self-confidence, problem solving, time management, respect for diversity, and self-awareness and self-acceptance  – will last them a lifetime. For $2,000 we can change the course of a young person’s life. Still need the ROI figures? $2,000 invested for the summer could pre-empt chronic unemployment, meaning direct savings of $10,357.40 per year in just Medicaid and cash and food assistance programs.

Training, or workforce development, or job readiness investment – whatever you call it, it’s about people. It’s about a real impact. A real job. A real living wage. A real future for Franklin County.

I’m proud to stand every day for people over rhetoric, and I thank you for standing with me.

Published July 12, 2013