It Takes a Village…

That’s an old saying, but in Cincinnati, the decision to adopt employer-driven career pathways as a workforce strategy had many “parents.”

Career pathways help align training for individuals with employers’ needs, close skills gaps, and develop talent-supply chains for in-demand careers. It takes collaboration and buy-in across employment sectors, education institutions, and community organizations, plus the support of public, private, and philanthropic funders to be successful.

For many years, workforce investment boards and nonprofit agencies had collaborated to serve employees and employers. In 2008, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) convened the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network, now Partners for a Competitive Workforce, to step up the community’s focus on workforce needs. Initially led by GCF, United Way of Greater Cincinnati assumed management when Cincinnati received federal Social Innovation Funds. The partners work to ensure that people are work-ready and that employers have a supply of talent.

When Cincinnati became part of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, our community already had traction in health care, so we started there. While health care is the largest private-sector employer, it is a challenge to find qualified workers. The career pathway work is led by the Health Careers Collaborative of Greater Cincinnati.

The collaborative broke down the barriers that prevent employees from advancing to higher paying jobs and opening up entry-level positions for new workers: flexible schedules, more convenient class locations, transportation, and convenient child care. Peer support, job coaches, and “soft skill” training are also important. Cooperation among education institutions, including transferable credits, fuels progress.

It’s working! We’ve made significant progress in Cincinnati by raising more than $3.2 million and leveraging an additional $21.6 million in public and private funds, including $8.4 million in state and federal grants and $11.9 million in aligned training funds from the region’s public workforce system:

  • Despite the economic downturn, more than 3,000 jobseekers with entry-level certificate training realized a 90 percent completion rate and 82 percent job-placement rate.
  • More than 200 workers enrolled in an associate degree program and had an 80 percent retention rate and average 3.25 GPA. (In contrast, the retention rate was 35 percent, and the GPA was 2.78 for all students.)
  • One hospital partner generated a 12 percent return on investment from the training program (the savings were in recruitment costs) and a net benefit of $2.6 million for the entry-level certificate training program (lower turnover, reduced recruitment costs).

Career pathway initiatives are also underway in advanced manufacturing and construction and are experiencing early gains.

We have said many times in our region and in the philanthropic field that collaboration is the “new normal.” Partners for a Competitive Workforce is a true public-private-philanthropic partnership, and we are proud of our role in getting it started.

Kathryn E. Merchant is President/CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

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