August 25, 2021 8:52am
OP-ED: Growing workforce shortage highlights pervasive, long-term issues
This article originally appeared in Louisville Business First on August 25, 2021
If you have yet to notice a growing number of ‘now hiring’ signs, or advertising of generous pay increases and sign-on bonuses, you surely have experienced increased wait times at popular restaurants, long check-out lines at retailers, and delays for appointments. Whether you are a business leader feeling the strain on your operations, or a consumer frustrated by a bumpy transition into our new normal, we can all agree that action to stabilize the workforce is urgently needed.
The current shortage presents an important opportunity for employers to strengthen their pay and benefits, but that alone is only a band-aid for larger, more pervasive problems in our region. While economic restrictions from the pandemic, extension of unemployment benefits, and childcare shortages have exacerbated the problem, workforce issues in our region existed prior to COVID-19.
That is why GLI has activated a long-term strategy to address the disconnect and make workforce development a priority. Louisville has the talent. We have the organizations to develop that talent. Now we need to utilize a strategy to connect the dots and create a more educated, empowered, and successful homegrown workforce. To do that, we must focus on three main areas: attraction, retention, and development.
Attraction is an important building block. Our Live in Lou initiative showcases Greater Louisville as an unmatched place to live, work, and play. Through digital marketing and advertising, we are reaching talent in other markets and connecting them to local jobs. To support relocation efforts, Live in Lou created a job board that pulls local jobs from national job boards, and is also populated by local employers, featuring thousands of jobs at any given time. Additionally, we rolled out an employer toolkit with resources to help employers market Louisville to prospective talent.
Live in Lou has also become a platform to maximize workforce retention. Our team has launched several initiatives to help create connections and build a sense of community to keep talent in our region. Most recently, we created a program in partnership with local professional development groups called ‘Finding You in Lou’ aimed at retaining college interns post-graduation, by providing leadership and professional development training, connecting them to leaders in our community, and immersing them in local culture and job connections.
In addition to keeping workers, we must ensure they are reaching their full potential. Workforce development is an investment in the long-term success of our economy that also strengthens retention and attraction efforts. Our new Workforce Ecosystem Hub will launch next year as a one-stop shop to link job seekers with training to upskill and fill in-demand jobs. This hub, developed in collaboration with Louisville Forward, The University of Louisville, Kentucky Chamber, KentuckianaWorks, and Work One Southern Indiana, will help connect jobseekers to upskilling programs, and help employers identify training opportunities and funding sources to upskill their existing workforce. It will also connect employers and workforce providers to create a more streamlined process for talent looking for jobs.
Too often, jobs that offer an upward trajectory require postsecondary education, certifications, or unpaid internships which are unattainable for people living paycheck to paycheck. Ultimately, this perpetuates inequities by disadvantaging workers of certain neighborhoods, backgrounds, and races.
That is why we partnered with 15 employers and several workforce and educational partners to launch the Career Acceleration Network as an initial two-year pilot program that is equipped to serve more than 150 participants. There are plans to expand the network with the goal of assisting 2,700 people over three years. The network creates clear pathways with measurable benchmarks for workers to move up in careers in five different fields including: business services, health care, hospitality, manufacturing, and technology. Participants start in entry level positions and are connected with pro-bono or reduced fee training from workforce and education partners. The network helps them build skills that will eventually lead to careers paying up to $31.50 per hour, or salaried positions that pay between $36,000
and $80,000 per year.
Lining up jobs is only one part of the solution. Mitigating barriers that keep people from advancing in their careers is another challenge. These barriers range from a lack of reliable transportation, affordable childcare, etc. We are currently setting up a Barrier Removal Fund to help individuals in the network overcome unexpected expenses and cost barriers that could force them out of the workforce.
These are just a few of the initiatives GLI has underway and a small snapshot of what our community is already doing to address the workforce crisis. The pandemic has highlighted just how critical a strong workforce is to our economy, and that we have much more to do. I urge businesses to join us in your own capacities to support workers and programs that will align our workforce for success in the decades to come.
Sarah Davasher-Wisdom is the president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc.