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Baltimore's Latest Employment Efforts Start In The Neighborhoods

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Every week, I meet individuals and families hit hard by the Great Recession. Recently, I met Bruce, a skilled laborer who lost a job that paid a living wage and who is now working a minimum-wage job to provide for his family. Too many times, he has been forced to choose between paying his utility bills or putting food on the table for his kids. His choices are heartbreaking -- and far too common.

Most of all, stories like Bruce's remind all of us of the role government and the community, together, have in linking people to good job opportunities. Unemployment and underemployment is a significant challenge-especially as we continue to adjust to what some people are calling "the new normal." This new economic climate requires us to change the way we think about job training, and in Baltimore we are taking a new approach.

While lowering the unemployment rate is certainly urgent, it is essential to recognize that preparing America's workforce for sustainable careers is the best way to make a long-term difference. This year, despite a significant budget shortfall, our city is funding a new program to help unemployed or underemployed residents get the skills they need.

Baltimore City is establishing four new Community Job Hubs in neighborhoods identified as most in need, based on persistently-high unemployment rates. These hubs will provide residents with direct access to employment readiness tools, computer skills training, and information about current job opportunities.

Specific locations have been carefully selected with the collaboration of well-known community organizations to ensure that residents will be more likely to take advantage of these services. Anchored in trusted neighborhood facilities, the hubs will increase opportunity for residents. As we identify more funding and partners, we will establish hubs in additional neighborhoods.

Our new community-based hubs are an efficient and effective way to maximize limited financial resources while giving job-seekers the opportunity to learn the job skills that employers will require in the future.

At the Community Job Hubs, career development staff will assist job-seekers needing basic computer skills. By closing the digital divide -- a barrier that has hampered many long-term unemployed or underemployed residents in Baltimore's high-poverty communities -- the Community Job Hubs will allow residents to choose career tracks that will lead to sustainable careers.

Consider this: most job applications these days are electronic, and those who lack basic computer literacy skills are at a major disadvantage when seeking employment. The hubs will bring necessary technology-based resources to neighborhoods, giving job-seekers access to online tools so they can develop their individual career pathways through the use of powerful job search engines and online resources to create effective resumes and cover letters.

Each hub will offer free classes, taught by professional technology trainers, to prepare residents for 21st century jobs. These basic through advanced-level classes will offer professional coursework that can be accessed through any Internet-enabled computer for independent study. Job-seekers will also have the opportunity to earn certifications that recognize their computer skills and knowledge, which can add value to their job search.

Any long-term increase in Baltimore's employment rate can only be achieved with the productive collaboration of the city's pillars of economic growth, such as healthcare, education and research, tourism, sustainable energy, and our port. We are working closely with these sectors, as well as local community colleges, to forge partnerships that align the skills of Baltimore's workforce with the needs of Baltimore's employers.

Community-based workforce development services are the wave of the future, and strong partnerships among all stakeholders-higher education, business, government, and local communities-are necessary for the project's success. To this end, we are creating a Workforce Partner Network, comprised of these key partners, to ensure that staff and volunteers have the training necessary to stay current with the cutting-edge workforce development tools at our Community Job Hubs.

This targeted strategy of Baltimore's new Community Job Hubs ensures that we reach those most in need of employment services. By bridging the digital divide, Baltimore residents like access to the tools they need to be successful in the 21st century.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is the mayor of Baltimore. Her e-mail is mayor@baltimorecity.gov. Twitter: @MayorSRB.