April 2024

Columbus Partnership, Urban League aim to spread the wealth of Intel, high-tech jobs

By Carrie Ghose
Columbus Business First

Columbus Urban League aims to raise $1.2 million to create a Career Connect Hub to guide people from underrepresented groups through the steps to complete training for advanced manufacturing and healthcare jobs.

The organization has applied for federal and state grants to convert a portion of its headquarters, 788 Mt. Vernon Ave., into the Career Connect Hub, providing culturally relevant guidance and support to get underemployed residents into the many training programs available for careers in healthcare, engineering technician roles and advanced manufacturing.

“People of color, those who are underemployed, they want these new opportunities that we know are happening,” Urban League CEO Stephanie Hightower said in a joint presentation this week with the Columbus Partnership.

“They will do the work to seize the jobs of the future – and when they do, all of us will gain from their success,” she said. “We believe this framework can be transformational, and we think it can be a national model.”

Central Ohio has multiple initiatives to train the workforce for manufacturers like Intel Corp., Honda Motor Co., and Amgen, as well as Central Ohio’s rapidly expanding hospital systems.

The challenge has been communicating that.

“All they heard was ‘Intel’ and ‘$100,000 jobs’ – they didn’t know exactly what that meant,” Hightower said.

The Partnership, made up of Central Ohio business, government and nonprofit leaders, set a goal at the start of the decade to reinvent the Central Ohio economy as one that is not only prosperous, but inclusive and equitable. But the data show a need to change the approach, CEO Kenny McDonald said.

“We have every belief we can deliver the quantity and quality of workforce,” McDonald said. “Students and people with jobs in underrepresented communities are willing, receptive and extremely motivated. They do feel like they’re being left out, both in the communications and in the opportunities themselves.”

Metro Columbus ranks last for economic racial inclusion among 54 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million population, according to Brookings Institution data released las month. While the region ranked just above the middle for overall economic growth and prosperity, Columbus’ gap between white and non-white people was 51st worst for the poverty rate and 52nd worst for the employment gap.

“Not only do we want to continue to be a fast-growing region, creating jobs and opportunities, but we have to focus on closing the gaps,” McDonald said. “We’ve still got a ton of work to do.”

Repairing that disconnect, he said, would be “not only a good thing to happen, but we cannot meet the challenge without it happening.”

Connecting people to jobs creates wins all around, Hightower said: More customers for business and more taxpayers who no longer need government assistance.

“It’s not a zero-sum game when the pie itself gets bigger for everybody,” she said.


How Urban League plans to close the gaps

In an online survey commissioned by the Urban League, two-thirds of the more than 3,500 respondents said they were very or extremely interested in a higher-paying job. When told more details about advance manufacturing jobs that require one year of training for certification, 54% were still interested, said Melinda Swan, CEO of The Collective Genius, which conducted the survey.

Barriers to participating included lack of childcare and lower pay during the training period. But 84% said that if the Urban League helped them get a better-paying job, they would also participate in the nonprofit’s programs on managing money, buying a home or other life skills.

Respondents included current Urban League clients and people who responded to radio ads and emails from social service organizations, Swan said. More than half were ages 25 to 44, and three-fourths already have full-time jobs, with another 13% working part-time.

“They want to know: What are these companies? What do they do? That’s almost as important as knowing what the training requirements are,” Swan said. “To explore those careers they need a lot more information … and they need it from a trusted resource.”

The Urban League is best suited to be that source because of its existing programs and “cultural competency,” said Jeaneen Hooks, vice president of programs.

“We’re experienced in what works … and what does not work,” Hooks said.

The career hub would walk participants through learning about the career options through the training and placement. The relationship would continue after the hire, so workers can come back to the Urban League if they hit obstacles such as childcare or transportation.

Over time the hub could expand to other industries or businesses that offer on-the-job training.

“Underrepresented communities need a lot more information,” she said. “We want to build a day-in-the-life experience from people in that line of work, so they can ask the questions relevant to them.

“We want to ensure everyone who completes the training can be placed.”

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