Building a More Inclusive Economy in the South

Posted July 7, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young people learning skills for employment.

Work in the South is chang­ing. The region’s long­stand­ing eco­nom­ic sta­ple — low-skill jobs — is giv­ing way to mid­dle-skill posi­tions. It’s a tran­si­tion that requires edu­ca­tion beyond high school but not nec­es­sar­i­ly a col­lege degree.

South­ern states have an impor­tant role to play in help­ing res­i­dents nav­i­gate this evolv­ing eco­nom­ic land­scape, accord­ing to a new report fund­ed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report, Build­ing a Skilled Work­force for a Stronger South­ern Econ­o­my, calls on states to help equip indi­vid­u­als — par­tic­u­lar­ly job seek­ers of col­or and those from low-income com­mu­ni­ties — with the train­ing and cre­den­tials need­ed to ben­e­fit from mid­dle-skill opportunities.

Authored by the Nation­al Skills Coali­tion and the Fed­er­al Reserve Banks of Atlanta and St. Louis, the report also high­lights pol­i­cy changes that states can enact to cre­ate a more inclu­sive work­force. These changes include:

  • Using sec­tor part­ner­ships and work-based learn­ing to help job seek­ers meet indus­try needs.
  • Invest­ing in local com­mu­ni­ties to imple­ment high-qual­i­ty work­force devel­op­ment approaches.
  • Offer­ing acces­si­ble train­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for adults who are employed and adults who are look­ing to reen­ter the workforce.
  • Pro­vid­ing job seek­ers with com­pre­hen­sive sup­port ser­vices that enable them to com­plete edu­ca­tion and train­ing programs.
  • Estab­lish­ing job-dri­ven finan­cial-aid pro­grams and mak­ing them avail­able to a wide range of students.
  • Cre­at­ing state data sys­tems and clear account­abil­i­ty measures.
  • Form­ing a skills cab­i­net to uni­fy lead­ers across sec­tors and around a com­pre­hen­sive skill-build­ing strategy.

Beyond iden­ti­fy­ing pol­i­cy changes, the report out­lines chal­lenges that may pre­clude south­ern­ers from devel­op­ing spe­cial­ized skills. It points to per­sis­tent pover­ty — eight of the 10 states with the high­est rates of pover­ty nation­wide are in the South — as a major fac­tor in pre­vent­ing expand­ed skill sets and sta­ble career paths. Oth­er sys­temic issues, includ­ing high child-care costs, unre­li­able trans­porta­tion and pri­or crim­i­nal con­vic­tions, make it hard for res­i­dents to attain the nec­es­sary edu­ca­tion and train­ing that employ­ers require.

Res­i­dents, busi­ness­es and state economies are count­ing on their lead­ers to cre­ate poli­cies that will help them thrive now, and in the future,” says the report.

For­tu­nate­ly, some states are embrac­ing this chal­lenge. In South Car­oli­na, for exam­ple, a statewide appren­tice­ship pro­gram helps com­pa­nies train and retain a skilled work­force. And in Ten­nessee, a new law enables adults of any age to earn a two-year tech­ni­cal or com­mu­ni­ty col­lege degree tuition-free.

Read the report

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