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A New Solution to the Economic Recovery Dilemma

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By Aaron Shiffman, Executive Director of Brooklyn Workforce Innovations

In some way -- big or small -- we have all been part of the narrative about unemployment and job creation since the economic downturn of 2008. Rightfully so; the annual average unemployment nationally in 2012 was at 8.1 percent, a discouraging and motivating statistic. According to a Bloomberg report in July 2012, this statistic represents nearly 13 million Americans looking for work and another 8 million that are settling for part-time work despite slight improvements throughout last year. Early on in the most recent economic crisis, after a brief period of confusion, many Americans made up their minds that job losses were a result of some combination of corporate disinvestment in American workers, corporate greed and corporate mismanagement. Later, some began to recognize the skills gaps that are growing in the labor force that complicate the efforts to "get Americans back to work." Now, it's time to recognize the complex constellation of factors that are stalling our jobs recovery and come up with some additional new solutions to address it.

Understanding the complexities of the various skills gaps is critical to understanding and unlocking true solutions that will put our neighbors back to work. According to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey conducted in 2011, countries in the Americas such as the United States are experiencing more difficulty filling jobs than the global average with 37 percent of employers reporting the reason as "lack of talent." When employers are asked why opening remain unfilled, they tell us there simply aren't enough skilled workers to meet the growing employer demand.

And there lies the need and opportunity.

Without a doubt, there is a deep need for transformation in the education sector, particularly in community colleges and four-year institutions, which provide a means for addressing part of the needs of our unprepared and unskilled workforce. But what about the millions of current and future young Americans that are not, and may never be, college-bound? A college education has become an expensive commodity nearly inaccessible to many young adults who grew up in some of our most disinvested-in communities and school districts. One important, underutilized answer: employer-customized training.

For more than a decade, workforce development practitioners have focused on the demand side of the joblessness equation in preparing their training beneficiaries for employment. Particularly in the sector-focused training field, the effective training providers are continuously working to understand and remain current about employers' needs. And more recently, some workforce development organizations are taking that a step further and developing training programs specifically targeted for medium- and large-scale hiring needs among employer partners. Here workforce development programs are leveraging their strong relationships with employers and their keen understanding of the needs of that business or industries and are partnering to develop training curriculum that combine both hard skills and soft skills development so as to fill existing jobs that would otherwise continue to go unfilled.

Such organizations innovatively apply a successful, scalable workforce development model to both the supply and demand sides of their communities' need and focus their resources on it. On-going collaborations such as those at the Brooklyn Navy Yard exemplify a growing set of opportunities in New York City. The organizations involved realize that by focusing training efforts on a concentration of potential employers, which represent growing industries in today's economy, the collaboration will thrive as a hub for staff recruitment as well as an employment resource center for low-income and unemployed local residents in the vicinity (employer-customized training at the Brooklyn Navy Yard will focus in particular on public housing residents and veterans). Bringing together government agencies, nonprofits, labor and philanthropy to achieve shared goals will produce exponentially greater outcomes for low-income individuals and businesses alike, and can significantly contribute to the economic growth our country so critically needs.