Yes, people DO want to work: workforce development in Buckeye-Woodhill

Ohio’s unemployment rate is at 3.9%, higher than the national average of 3.5%. Not too bad…right? In July, Ohio added approximately 6,900 jobs to the private sector, which sounds like a decent number. Preparing the second of this series, I wondered how those numbers play out for my friends, neighbors and partners of the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood.

How many people have really left their jobs since the pandemic?

I reviewed tons of articles about this apparent flight of employees, the Great Resignation, and the employers desperately looking to fill those vacated positions. In the midst of my research, I even heard that “people just don’t want to work.” Now, I know better, and many of us in the human and social services sector on the front lines with real people, know better, so I kept digging.

Just before the pandemic, 50% of neighbors of Buckeye-Woodhill worked in the labor force.

My colleagues at the Center for Community Solutions reported that just before the pandemic, 50% of neighbors of Buckeye-Woodhill worked in the labor force. Common fields of employment included 12% residents working in Accommodations & Food services; 7% residents working in Retail trade; 7% residents working in administrative, support and waste management; 5% residents working in construction; 5% residents working in educational services and 6% residents working finance, insurance, and real estate. Interesting and notable, 35% of the residents work in the health care and social assistance sector! I know from my last two years at East End Neighborhood House that, during the pandemic, these were the same people we focused much of our efforts in supporting.

Along with the devoted doctors and nurses we depended on during the pandemic, there were essential workers who served behind the scenes. There were home health aides, personal care aids, nonprofit drivers, cooks and the tons of other social and human services assistants/advocates. Our beloved childcare leaders who made it possible for others to go to work, showed up during the pandemic. In fact, one of the main reasons East End Neighborhood House and many other neighborhood centers like it remained open during the pandemic was in part to sustain child care and senior centers—but the details of this great sacrifice will part of a future blog.

People want flexible, fulfilling work that pays well

Having served as an employer just a few months ago, I know people who want and need to return to work. People also want meaningful work, with flexibility to balance work and life. Some need more training or education to do something different to work in roles that are more fulfilling. The pandemic also taught us how to sustain operations differently. While some could work remotely, those of us in direct services had to figure out ways to grant our staff time for self-care while still servicing our clients. My long-term support and push for work week of four days seem most possible during the pandemic! Nonprofit sector employers could rotate their staff to ensure that services are available to their clients from Monday thru Friday, but only require the same staff to work 4 days a week. This could even address the long-term struggle many faced with offering competitive wages in the midst of challenging funding sources.

Nonprofit sector employers could rotate their staff to ensure that services are available to their clients from Monday thru Friday, but only require the same staff to work 4 days a week.

Where are the workers? (and what are their challenges?)

The report by the Fund for Our Economic Future Where are the workers?  is comprehensive and clearly demonstrates what is happening in Northeast Ohio workforce. The report supports that there has been a substantial loss of employees as 408,313 people quit their job in the past year. Surprising is that 18,389 people are out of the workforce because of long COVID symptoms; some still facing health challenges that keep them from returning to work. Not surprisingly, 191,854 people are working part time but want full time work; and some 481,559 need more training to get ahead. Finally, a very small number—only 4%—do not want to return to work.

Overall people do want to work, but there are challenges.

Overall people do want to work, but there are challenges. The report in part lists the need for childcare, better pay, flexibility (including the ability to work from home) and the desire to find a good fit. It’s important to note that these findings disproportionately affect people of color, those with incomes below $50,000, those with less than a high school diploma or with some college, those with children or older parents to care for. This report is full of good information, and a useful tool for learning more on the employment in Ohio.

Who in the neighborhoods are focused on helping people find employment, gain security, and a enjoy a fulfilling work-life balance? There are many organizations doing this work, and I was able to connect with Towards Employment and Women in Transition, two such champions. I met two amazing individuals representing these entities, and both share a deep commitment to helping others gain employment and develop a sense of purpose to sustain their employment.

Women in Transition develops personalized plans for academic or professional growth

Women in Transition (WIT) is not located in the Buckeye neighborhood, but was recommended by various women from the neighborhood, participants of the program. Social workers/and community leaders familiar with this service asked me to explore the benefits of this service. Established in 1978 Women in Transition services are offered at no cost to the participant, a non-credit course series offered through Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C). The program helps women move their lives forward as they develop personalized plans focused on academic and professional development. I met with Director Ms. Cicely D. Campbell, and she was amazing. She expressed the value of encouraging women to explore their true desires for their careers so that they could claim their own power while working along staff members and other supporters of the program.

Women in Transition looks at the entire person, and supports them through real life challenges.

Cicely speaks of the importance of listening to all stories, and the value of creating safes spaces and the power of diverse experiences brought by each woman. The program meets women where they are, whether they are young and newly experiencing the workforce, or mid-career, facing a transition in life that brings them to a place of wanting renewal and fresh direction. Cicely highlighted the power of sisterhood that forms as the women evolve in their experiences with the program and each other. The program also looks at the entire person, and supports them through real life challenges. Whether a woman is dealing homelessness, domestic violence, grief/loss, the staff focus on the unique needs of its participants. Referrals and resources are available thru partnership with community providers. Essentially, staff guide participants compassionately so they can ultimately focus on lessons and meet the goals they set for themselves.

For more information about Women in Transition, interested women may call 216-987-4974.

Towards Employment helps people build on their experiences and remove barriers

The next champion focusing on employment and workforce development is Towards Employment, another highly recommended service by participants and social service providers alike. I had the pleasure of meeting with Ronnie Cannon, Community Outreach & Engagement Manager. Like Cicely of WIT, he was enthusiastic about the service and well-informed about the value of helping people develop their purpose, renewing their opportunities and building on their gifts. I love it when social service providers do not prescribe what a person should do with their lives but instead allows that person to explore while receiving guided support in the process.

Developed in 1976 and born out of neighborhood centers model, Towards Employment formed to develop and implement supportive services for people starting new job. They combine the power of wrapping diverse services the client may need at the time of service. The staff is equipped to focus on individuals’ needs; whether is dealing with a past conviction, substance abuse recovery, housing needs or child-care, the focus is on eliminating barriers so that they can then focus on job readiness trainings and retention. TE’s employs their “Work Advance model, a comprehensive career pathway model that allows participants to access the right services at the right time.” Ronnie explains that it’s not necessarily about starting over, but instead building on what you know, molding such and providing the tools and information on how to use and grow one’s gifts!”

I appreciate that TE goes beyond the day-to-day operations to address advocacy.

Towards Employment has various entries of services; offering opportunities to engage in manufacturing, construction, and culinary or hospitality careers. They serve men and women from various age groups including participants as young as 18 years old. Participants gain the potential to connect to a network of approximately 300 employers. One example, Step Up to UH, prepares participants to enter the health care field. I appreciate that TE goes beyond the day-to-day operations to address advocacy. For instance, TE team has been involved with voter registrations, the Cash Bail reform, and the Ban the box campaign keeping employers from not giving an opportunity to those who been involved with the criminal and legal system. Finally, TE is also partnering with the Ohio to Work initiative, in partnership with Jobs Ohio and Ohio Means Jobs of the county along with Buckeye-Woodhill development corporation Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc.

To connect with Towards Employment and find information about any of their services, please call 216-696-5750.