Investing in Workforce Development to Stimulate Local Markets

Flynann Janisse, executive director of Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp., details the role of a competitive employment base in spurring demand for real estate.

By Flynann Janisse

Service-enriched housing programs are directly benefiting local economies and creating a more stable local labor force through bundled services that include workforce and skills development. Weekly reports from the financial sector continue to show the unemployment rate hovering around 4 percent. However, since the Great Recession, the participation rate has been on a steady decline. The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics peg participation at 62.9 percent.

These figures tell a story of two different economies, separated by a common buzzword: “skills gap.” This gap is created when employers are unable to find trained candidates to fill positions they currently have open. From the Maine Economic Growth Council’s “Measures of Growth in Focus” report to Washington’s Workforce Training & Education Coordinating Board, the results show that the skills gap is not only widening but threatening the viability of state and local economies.

Safe, affordable multifamily housing plays a major role in meeting demands of commercial sectors. Workforce development programs have proven to be extremely effective. Programs may be specifically tailored at a hyperlocal level, partnering directly with community employers with existing openings. Vocational employment programming offered through a service provider also means there is support from initial assessment to placement and beyond. The assessment phase looks at a variety of items, including requirements that may be necessary in the field. Helping resolve potential hurdles upfront is essential, so focus may be devoted to the training program and job search phases. At Rainbow, we have found post-placement follow-up to be a critical component for the success of our vocational program. It not only ensures a resident has the continual support they need in their career but also instills the highest level of confidence in employers that individuals graduating from this program are well trained and have already demonstrated reliability and dependability.

Fueling corporate real estate demand

Each year, CNBC scores all 50 states across 10 categories of competitiveness to gauge its ability to attract businesses. Carrying the most weight in the study is the education level of a state’s workforce and number of viable candidates to fill employment opportunities, specifically looking for training programs which support the placement of those candidates as employees. Second-highest on CNBC’s scoring matrix is infrastructure, noting the time it takes to commute to work. Combined, these two categories make up a third of the points a state can earn in the survey. A well-trained and geographically convenient workforce is an attractive proposition to employers in all commercial sectors when thinking about relocation or expansion.

Workforce programs and investments must be focused on developing skills for a changing landscape. A 2017 McKinsey Global Institute report estimates 65 percent of primary school students will hold jobs that do not yet exist. Rainbow is addressing this by rolling out a partnership with Coder Kids, a program that teaches youth the basics of computer programming. Students in grades 5-8 will participate in a semester-long class that will teach the Python programming language. Just as with school semesters, these courses will build upon each other with the end goal of fluency in the language by high school graduation.

More coordinated investments, like those JP Morgan is making, are needed to maximize reach. Local elected officials must incentivize deeper partnerships in order to meet current demand. Funding these programs within the context of a resident services provider not only helps stabilize housing, but directly benefits the local economy, providing a pool of candidates to meet both immediate and future needs. Employers with access to a reliable workforce are less likely to relocate and higher employment rates directly translates into safer communities and increased tax revenue.

Flynann Janisse is executive director of Rainbow Housing Assistance Corp.

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