Employment is the path to economic self-sufficiency, a source of dignity and the key in our fight to end poverty. Yet, at the same time our businesses are creating more and more job opportunities, many in our communities are willing and able to work but face barriers to employment.
At United Way of Central Kentucky, we regularly meet with employers throughout our region, and time and again we hear their workforce concerns. “Where is our workforce?” they ask. The nonprofit community might not be the first group that comes to mind when you think of workforce development, but we are uniquely positioned to serve as a source of prospective employees.
Central Kentucky has been fortunate to see unemployment rates continue to fall. However, we know a significant number of people have opted out of the workforce for a variety of reasons, and they are not reflected in unemployment rates. Our hope is that leaders in the nonprofit community, the business community, the workforce development system and others will come together to help more of those people find a path to employment and self-sufficiency.
So, what’s keeping this population out of the workforce? While there is no one answer to this question, some reasons are barriers we believe our communities can remove.
Transportation is one key barrier. We believe there are small-scale, privately-funded options to explore that could open up job opportunities on a regional level. While there will need to be a variety of different strategies to address such a complex issue, we are grateful to see community partners stepping forward to engage employers and develop solutions such as ride sharing.
Conversations with both businesses and our clients indicate childcare is another common barrier to stable employment. For a working parent, everything depends on what’s left of their paycheck once they pay the childcare bill. Childcare costs for two children are comparable to in-state college tuition, an expense parents have 18 years to prepare and save for. Quality childcare that provides what a child needs to be prepared for school is critical not only for parents but for our collective future, as research shows every $1 invested in early childhood education saves $17 in the future.
Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail (KCC-LT), a crucial partner in this endeavor, provides a full suite of services to job seekers, from job search preparation to assistance with funding for skills training. Client Services Manager Jerisia Lamons said many job seekers or prospective job seekers have barriers outside the career center’s scope of services.
“While we focus on working with career center clients to overcome barriers related to job skills and training resources, we know some of the more personal barriers are keeping people out of our region’s workforce,” she said.
The help these potential workers receive often equates to a list of phone numbers or referrals to other agencies that may be able to assist. Sometimes, the solution already exists but can often be difficult to find. Sometimes, there is no solution. We believe the nonprofit community can join the workforce development efforts already underway to better coordinate services and to help identify and start filling some of those gaps.
In the end, we envision a one-stop source where those seeking employment will find a guide and mentor who can, in short, do whatever it takes to help that job seeker become successful.
“A long-term, flexible coaching approach will make all the difference for some job seekers,” said Lamons, who is one of several members of a group convened by United Way of Central Kentucky to explore this topic.
In July, that group welcomed multiple members of our community to serve as an advisory team and help us gauge community support in moving forward. The good news is that there is undeniable interest in coming together and developing a solution. It was encouraging and enlightening to see that nonprofits and employers not only were willing to share valuable expertise, but also expressed a real passion for addressing workforce barriers.
We’re now exploring successful models used throughout the country, and we continue to seek out input from nonprofits, employers and others as a strategic response to this need is developed.
If a person is willing and able to work, we are ready to do what it takes to help make that happen. If you’re interested in how we can increase workforce participation and put more people on a path to self-sufficiency, I encourage you to join us. Visit unitedwayck.org for updates as our collaborations and plans unfold.
Megan Stith is President and CEO of United Way of Central Kentucky. She can be reached at 270-737-6608 or firstname.lastname@example.org.