Finding workers to meet the needs of businesses and connecting good jobs with people eager for employment has long been a push-pull challenge in the Tristate and an ongoing priority for government, corporate and nonprofit leaders. But no single organization was able to address the challenge and make a meaningful impact.
That’s why the Greater Cincinnati Foundation has emphasized workforce development as a major component of its five-year Collective Impact initiative
As described in a Soapbox special report in June
, Collective Impact is a disciplined approach that assembles numerous players — convened by what’s known as a “backbone” organization — who agree to collaborate toward a common vision. They adopt a set of measurable goals and work to reinforce each other’s efforts under the Foundation’s watchful and encouraging eye.
Partners for a Competitive Workforce
is the backbone addressing the needs of area employers and training workers to fill those needs and improve their own lives.
The Greater Cincinnati Foundation launched the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network in 2008 with a grant from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. In 2011, as the network evolved to further align workforce issues and players, it was renamed Partners for a Competitive Workforce and moved to the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, where it supports that organization’s “Bold Goal”
of gainful employment for 90 percent of the Tristate’s labor force by 2020.
Many Partners, Added Sectors
Today Partners for a Competitive Workforce (PCW) is an expansive collaboration of more than 150 businesses, workforce investment boards, chambers of commerce, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions, service providers and philanthropic funders.
PCW focused on three industry sectors in 2011: healthcare, manufacturing and construction.
“There was clearly a demand for jobs in those areas,” Executive Director Janice Urbanik says.
Information technology was added in 2012, and supply chain management became a fifth focus in early 2015.
The Greater Cincinnati Foundation supports seven backbone organizations in total, each like PCW aimed at sustaining long-term change and impact on the community through careful partnering of organizations and employers with mutual interests. PCW has achieved outstanding success during its nine-year run, helping more than 10,000 area residents find meaningful employment.
As with each backbone, PCW focuses on guiding vision and strategy for many initiatives and on supporting aligned, collaborative activities. It establishes shared measurements to gauge progress. And it builds public interest and support, advances policy and mobilizes funding, activities that individual organizations are less able to carry out.
Urbanik is a total believer in the value of this approach.
“The key thing around having a backbone,” she says, “is that it’s someone who wakes up every day and thinks about nothing but the task at hand.”
(Read a full Q&A with Janice Urbanik in the right-hand column of this page.)
Responsibility for workforce development has traditionally been just one part of someone’s larger job, not the entire focus. In fact, Urbanik has a staff of directors who individually deal with each of the five industry sectors and seek ways to marshal and amplify cross-sector efforts.
Urbanik likes to cite specific examples of success — for instance, a young, single mom who wasn’t making ends meet cleaning houses and working retail. With funding support from PCW, she entered a training program for construction workers through the Urban League.
“She worked for the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) and then with some private firms involved in rebuilding Over-the-Rhine,” Urbanik says. “Now she’s with a high-end residential construction company in management and sales roles. She had really been struggling to make ends meet, and now she’s transformed her life and her children’s.”
Kevin Linnere struggled, too, working for himself to support his wife and four children. His brother, a truck driver, encouraged him to get his commercial driver’s license, but that took time and funds Linnere didn’t have.
“There’s lot more to it than a routine driver’s license,” he says. “You really have to learn the subtleties of driving a commercial vehicle.”
With support provided by PCW, he enrolled in a six-week training program at Napier Truck Driver Training in December 2015. By the end of January 2016 he earned his license and landed a steady, full-time job with Evans Transport, a division of Evans Landscaping in Newtown.
“The grant made getting my license possible,” Linnere says. “I think it’s beautiful. It literally took me days to get a job when putting out applications takes months.”
Sabrina Laney says her "Raise the Floor" job training was "the best thing I've ever done for myself."
Better Jobs for Women Across the Region
In 2013 Urbanik worked closely with Angie Taylor at Gateway Community and Technical College in Northern Kentucky to create a 16-week program for women to earn certification to work in manufacturing jobs called “Raise the Floor
.” It’s become a model for best practices, soon to be featured in a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, according to Taylor’s successor, Carissa Schutzman, vice president of Gateway Corporate College.
She describes the four pillars of Raise the Floor: recruit, train, place and support.
“The support is what makes our program different from others and is the reason for our success,” Schutzman says. “We have women who can have a better life for them and their dependents, and we have companies that need people who are skilled.”
When Raise the Floor was being planned in 2013, Gateway assembled two dozen community leaders from education and manufacturing as well as people who worked in community programs such as Northern Kentucky’s Career Center and Brighton Center. They also turned to high school administrators with access to graduating seniors who might consider coming into the program. With this broad-based input, Gateway created a program that’s exceeded expectations.
Sabrina Laney attests to the value of Raise the Floor. A 13-year Army veteran, she’d worked in light manufacturing with a company that built axles. But she had no chance for advancement.
“You need to be a skilled person to move up,” Laney says. “I had a young son, and businesses like that are not very family-friendly. If he got sick, I had to be off. It’s very difficult in those kind of places to be a woman at work.”
She lost the job, and then a worker at the unemployment office gave her a brochure about Raise the Floor. Not only did the program offer the chance to get certified for a better job, it also held out the possibility of earning an associate’s degree from Gateway.
“I thought if I can actually do it like this, I might as well go ahead and get my degree,” Laney recalls.
Raise the Floor Program Coordinator Brittany Corde counseled her every step of the way and gave her necessary assistance.
“There were times when I thought I was gonna have to stop going,” Laney says, “but Brittany made it possible when I didn’t have the resources. If she can’t help me, she knows someone who can. They collaborate between a lot of different programs, so they’re able to point you to someone who’s willing to give you the help you need.”
That’s the way Collective Impact works.
“I never thought I could do this,” Laney says gratefully. “I always knew I was smart, but this actually showed me I could do it. I always wanted to go back, but when you actually get in, it gets a little nerve-wracking. This is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. You kind of need that little push to get you there.”
Raise the Floor has elevated Laney’s life and that of approximately 75 students, ranging in age from 18 to 52, who have enrolled since early 2014. Currently considering her options for a co-op experience, Laney compares the training she’s received to a smorgasbord featuring “every kind of manufacturing you can think of, all of the basics that you would need. You can pretty much go anywhere with it. It’s amazing to have so many opportunities. I’ve always had to make a choice and take the first thing coming along. This will be different because I will get to choose.”
Working Across State Lines
Bill Scheyer heads Skyward
(previously Vision 2015), a Collective Impact backbone organization focused on diverse ways to help Northern Kentucky thrive. With a nearly 20-year history in several incarnations, Skyward had a built-in proclivity toward collaboration, Scheyer says, but the chance to be involved with the Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s various initiatives has been transformational.
“It’s helped us be more effective,” he says. “The Foundation’s guidance has really brought all the elements into clearer focus. If offers a clear, programmatic approach to get all this stuff done, including identifying the right partners and bringing them together around a well defined agenda. Now we have a clear-cut goal that everyone is pulling toward.”
Scheyer praises the way the various players share data and common measurements.
“Everyone agrees to measure in the same way,” he says. “We make sure people are open with their data. We mutually reinforce activities and keep the teams together, sharing ups and downs, numbers, challenges and successes.”
Scheyer cites a 2012 study by the Northern Kentucky Industrial Park Association that identified a 10-year need for roughly 6,000 new people to be employed in the manufacturing workforce. That was the catalyst to establish Raise the Floor.
“The people at Gateway,” he says, “realized that if we’re going to make the numbers we were going to need to be more innovative.”
Scheyer is immensely pleased with the success of Raise the Floor and offers it as a shining example of how the Collective Impact approach gets results.
“They worked with manufacturers to make a competency-based training program,” he says. “A lot of it is done online, some in class. It’s ultimately going to have rolling admissions, so you can come into it at various points in time. It’s done as a 16-week program as opposed to a two-year program.
Learn More About Workforce Development and Collective Impact
Read more about the role of equity in Collective Impact here
The FSG strategy consulting firm presents a Collective Impact case study focused on Partners for a Competitive Workforce here
PCW’s 2015 Annual Report is here
The PCW website
presents case studies on various workforce development projects.
Skyward President Bill Scheyer wrote a Cincinnati Enquirer opinion column
about its successes as a Collective Impact backbone organization.
Get more information on the “Raise the Floor” program here
Learn more about Collective Impact at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation website’s Collective Impact area
. See how big, complex problems require a collective approach with a shared vision and goals and all hands on deck rowing in the same direction
“It makes a person really hirable for a lot of these jobs, and it costs her half as much as the traditional program. With a lot of Collective Impact involvement from Gateway and the companies, they got this up and running quickly.”
Raise the Floor is making a substantial difference for many area residents. It’s another demonstration of how the Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s efforts using Collective Impact are achieving success in our community — involvement from various players committed to win/win approaches that improve life in the Tristate.
Soapbox is publishing a series of reports exploring how Collective Impact is changing and improving Greater Cincinnati. Part 1 is here, with future reports running in the third weeks of August, September and October. Support for this "Collective Impact" series is provided by Greater Cincinnati Foundation.
Photos by Scott Beseler. Infographic by Steph Landry Design and Partners for a Competitive Workforce.