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Businesses are taking workforce development into their own hands (and reaping the benefits)

As America’s workforce ages, new industries in need of cutting-edge skills are growing rapidly. Businesses are primed for hiring and creating new jobs, yet many workers find themselves in need of training and education to take advantage of these emerging opportunities. However, employer demand for skilled labor has started to align with the workforce’s appetite for training in ways that produce mutually beneficial outcomes.

This upward trend is already taking shape, especially in the technology and manufacturing sectors, where the bifurcation of employer needs and an underdeveloped workforce is the starkest. Even more encouraging is that inner cities are taking this opportunity to experiment with new workforce development programs and create more comprehensive plans surrounding it.

ICIC’s list of 328 inner cities, which is rigorously defined by factors such as population, poverty rate, unemployment rate and household income, is well-represented in these budding workforce development discussions. One example is in Connecticut, where manufacturing is the third largest industry and produces $27 billion of annual revenue. Connecticut’s manufacturing industry has one of the oldest workforces in the country, and employers have started to look to young people in Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, and Bridgeport as the future of the sector. In 2015, HartfordBusiness.com discussed why this plan was effective; inner cities have significantly younger populations than suburbs or rural areas, and manufacturing jobs offer a high living wage to workers, regardless of whether or not they have advanced degrees.

Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit that focuses on building educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations, published research detailing the alignment of workforce development activities in Baltimore. They found a common framework among municipalities that have made progress in coordinating workforce development with the local economy: there is a high degree of coordination between government agencies and organizations responsible for economic and workforce development activities, the business community endorses and participates in that coordination, and coordination efforts involve a broad range of industries.

A perfect example of coordination between businesses and workforce development efforts in an inner city is ICIC’s past Inner City 100 winner Atomic Data. The Minneapolis-based IT solutions provider recently became a Platinum Mission Investor in Creating IT Futures, a nonprofit that helps populations under-represented in the information technology industry and individuals who are lacking in opportunity prepare for, secure and achieve success in IT careers. Atomic Data’s commitment is dedicated to supporting tech workforce development in Minnesota.

Founders Jim Wolford and Larry Patterson see human capital as a key driver of the company’s growth, and see reinvesting in their community as an opportunity to help grow their own workforce. Ranked #74 on the 2016 Inner City 100 list, the company generates over $20 million in revenue and boasts a five-year growth rate of 163%, a testament to their emphasis on nurturing current and potential employees. Since partnering with Creating IT Futures’ IT-Ready career program in 2013, Atomic Data has already hired nine program graduates to expand its workforce.

Investments made by companies such as Atomic Data demonstrate dedication to community building that is a hallmark of successful inner city economic revitalization. When training and resources are made available to the workforce, companies can experience growth that allows them to reinvest in themselves and local residents. As the country’s economy continues to evolve, businesses and government agencies alike can look for new ways to collaborate with the workforce as a means to strengthen it on both ends. After all, growing a local economy provides a conduit for employment, while employers themselves provide a conduit for enriching the lives of local residents.

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