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Mayors, Workforce Development Professionals, Business Leaders Aim to Prepare Future Workforce

By Megan Cardiff
January 30, 2012

The U.S. Conference of Mayors Workforce Development Council (WDC) kicked off the Conference of Mayors 80th Annual Winter Meeting, held in Washington (DC) with a special Pre-Conference Session on job creation and workforce development January 17.

The Session, entitled Job Creation and the Employability Crisis: Preparing the Future Workforce as a Competitive CityStrategy, was moderated by the Conference of Mayors Work and Opportunity Task Force Co-Chair Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Mayors, CEOs, small business leaders and workforce development professionals shared best practices and strategies on developing the workforce of tomorrow.

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis opened the Session by underscoring the importance of workforce development and discussing the new Summer Jobs' program announced by the White House on January 5. "We have seen high rates of youth unemployment. It's time to talk more about the youth that have never had a work experience, including those at the college and post-college ages, that can't find employment. It is our responsibility to create opportunities to give an individual some work experience," stated the Secretary.

Solis also talked about a new grant, Reintegration of Ex-Offenders (RExO), that is designed to strengthen urban communities through an employment-centered program that incorporates mentoring, job training, and other comprehensive transitional services.

Rawlings, Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas President Laurie Bouillion Larrea, and Dansville, Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce President Laurie Moran comprised the first panel discussion on business development. "To have a successful business you need clear and bold goals; competitive value proposition; a sustainable operating platform; ongoing drive for efficiency, taking cost out of the system and constantly making it better; clear metrics for success; and innovation, new things you-ve come up with this year that are different from last year. Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas has all these bullets for success," Rawlings told the audience, presenting the NorthGate construction project with the Dallas airport and Omni Hotel project as two examples of the city's success.

The second panel on sector strategies included Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, and MultiCare Helath System/Good Samaritan Director Darci Gibson. Strickland and Gibson spoke about the Career Coach Program in Tacoma, which helps individual's access resources such as financial aid and Workforce Investment Act (WIA) dollars to help with upfront tuition costs. Career coaches are co-located on health care employer sites to help individuals determine their direction and what schools they may want to attend to further their education in a health related field.

Hancock discussed the sector strategies being used in his city to serve adults and youth, which include use for WIA, year-round youth and TANF programs. The mayor stressed the need to identify regional clusters and effectively enhance the area workforce and education to promote economic and business development in cities surrounding these clusters. "We know in order to grow these clusters we will need a highly skilled workforce and to attract them this highly skilled workforce must grow from within," stated Hancock.

District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray joined Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Microsoft Senior Director for Education and Workforce Bill Kamela to discuss training hard-to'serve populations. One City, One Hire is an employer-driven hiring initiative initiated by Gray with the goal of putting DC residents back to work. The mayor spoke on the initiative as an economic development strategy that serves as a catalyst to jump'start his pledge to put all unemployed residents back to work.

"You can't do employment and training in a vacuum," Soglin proclaimed. He stressed how essential quality childcare, transportation, and financial literacy are to building the workforce. "Health care and access to health care for the entire family is critical if we're going to make these investments in employment and training."

The panel addressing the issue of serving at-risk youth was comprised of Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings'Blake, and Capital Workforce Partners WIB Chair Charles Smith. Through the Baltimore Youth Opportunity program — YO! Baltimore –Rawlings'Blake was able to create youth friendly safe spaces, which include two large centers that have lounges to socialize with friends, a fitness center, and recording studio.

Segarra discussed the gains in education made in Hartford over the past few years and the city's continued investment in summer youth employment programs. Despite no federal funding, the city was able to put half of the youth to work over the 2011 summer. According to Segarra, "75 of the biggest corporations in the city, including the hospitals, have committed to doubling their number of participants for youth summer employment this summer."

The final presenter of the day was Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on his innovative 55,000 Degrees initiative. Fischer and his administration identified education, jobs, and quality of life as three deep drivers of change and sought to effectively harness these drivers through an increase in advanced degrees. The 55,000 degrees initiative seeks to increase the number of college degrees in Louisville by 55,000 over what would normally be obtained in the city by 2020. "People always ask me how we're going to get 55,000 degrees and the answer is simple — one at a time."

The Conference of Mayors Workforce Development Council closed out its meeting January 18 with a keynote address from United Way Worldwide President and CEO Brian Gallagher and presentations from the National Council on La Raza and YouthBuild on ways to build a workforce coalition to maximize advocacy efforts.