Three ways cities can support a modern workforce

The U.S. workforce is changing.

In 2020, millions of American workers were thrust into an unprecedented working environment that resulted in working from home and new, forcibly accrued skills. One and a half years later, the experiment isn’t ending. For most of the country, the test run is looking more like the long run.

As the post-pandemic reopening unfolds, employees are reassessing their relationship to work. The pre-pandemic workforce, created after World War II, invited strict hierarchies and time schedules favorable towards white Americans. As more executives begin to investigate the stark issues related to diversity and inclusion, and with the arrival of remote work, there’s a realization that the current model has much room for improvement. Organizations are looking at where they’re missing out on crucial talent while employees ponder: Do we want to develop different skill sets to ultimately pivot in our current careers?

A radical re-assessment of careers is taking place, a great reset in how employees nationwide think about work. A Pew survey in 2021 found that 66 percent of unemployed people have seriously considered changing occupations. A third of those surveyed have started taking courses or job retraining. It begs the question: what can cities do to continue to attract top talent, support their economy and allow room for the burgeoning modern workforce?

In Cincinnati, we know talent is attracted to the beauty of our hills and rivers, our trails and parks, our investment in transportation, sports, arts, and culture. As a chamber we need to continue advocating for, and working with, city and county government to support that infrastructure. But at the same time, we’ve developed bigger, bolder initiatives to address the changing talent trends in 2021. We’ve implemented three effective ways, and the results speak for themselves.

 

  1. Adopt new pipelines for untapped talent

American workers have become increasingly lured to maintain relevance in the workforce by building new skills. Cities should do everything in their power to create apprenticeships, highlight course opportunities at local colleges and universities and foster talent attraction marketing.

Through reskilling programs like Apprenti, an industry-recognized, state and federally accredited program, cities can train future tech workers with an emphasis on underrepresented groups, including women, minorities and veterans. Adapting the time-tested model of apprenticeship by bridging tech talent and diversity gaps, programs like Apprenti are serving to ignite a new paradigm to develop untapped talent and strengthen the tech ecosystem.

Cincinnati is just one of 16 Apprenti markets around the country, but currently the most productive market in terms of the number of participating companies, individuals served and state-filed tech occupations. Cincinnati-based companies participating in the program now include P&G, Kroger, E.W. Scripps, and Total Quality Logistics (TQL), among others. While many of Apprenti Cincinnati’s clients are global companies, the programs offered are attracting individuals to Cincinnati to take advantage of them, some relocating to Cincinnati for good.

 

  1. Partner with the local chamber

Cities that partner with their local chamber in close, strategic ways in turn advance the adoption of inclusive and effective practices into their city workforce to support employees, the community and local businesses.

Take for example the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Workforce Innovation Center. The center provides assessment and data-driven, customized recommendations designed to improve companies’ workplaces and employee retention—including helping better support the personal needs of employees facing unique challenges caused by the pandemic as well as enhancing equity and inclusivity in the workplace culture.

In 2020, the center launched new consulting services as part of a pilot program in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Works Cities initiative. The collaboration helps companies that want to adopt more inclusive practices but don’t have the resources to assess, analyze and implement them themselves. In light of this and other initiatives, the city of Cincinnati closely partnered with the center because officials registered the indisputable value it brings to minority populations, and to further attract new, untapped talent to the workforce.

 

  1. Prioritize inclusivity

Racial justice is at a critical center of American conversation, and many employers have started to take an all-in approach by working with existing corporate leaders and organizations. Diverse workplaces increase revenue, productivity and creativity thus contributing to a thriving community and economy. By prioritizing inclusivity and taking an all-in approach, cities see the reward. The Cincinnati Chamber’s Minority Business Accelerator (MBA) enhanced the development of sizable minority businesses in a couple of ways. First, by matching minority-owned supply companies with top science and research companies, and secondly, by helping minorities acquire existing businesses with no succession plan. According to a 2019 Lending Tree study, Cincinnati, when compared to the rest of the country, has the highest percentage of minority businesses that make $500,000+ per year and have been established for longer than six years.

The Cincinnati MBA is helping to build more scalable minority firms, partnering with Cincinnati-based Fortune 500s like P&G and Kroger. The Cincinnati MBA figures show that the program has helped grow 70 high-growth Black or Hispanic-owned businesses, resulting in the creation of 3,500 jobs and more than $1 billion in revenue. The Queen City has assisted multiple cities such as Boston, Tampa and Pittsburgh who are also interested in adopting the framework.

Ultimately, cities and chambers of commerce around the country are finding their communities facing ongoing talent challenges than pre-pandemic, resulting in a new workforce mobility and an increased urgency in creating equitable opportunities. There are plenty of ideas out there, and a popular support for flexibility and life balance that is endorsed by many. Companies and cities that don’t support the modern workforce may well pay a price, losing top talent to places that do.

 

Jill P. Meyer is the president and CEO at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, one of the largest metro chambers in the nation, on an aggressive course designed to grow the vibrancy and economic prosperity of the Cincinnati e MSA, encompassing 16 counties across Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.

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