Rebuilding a Strong Economy, Community, and Workforce

by Katie Condit, Chief Executive Officer

June 16, 2021

As we turn the corner into summer and anticipate the months ahead, we are eager to share WorkForce Central’s latest edition of Impact with you. It is clear that workforce development is at the forefront of investment priorities and recovery strategies both locally and nationally, and for good reason. Most agree that a strong economy and community is one where individuals have jobs that support them to thrive and local employers have an engaged, ready, and motivated workforce. There is no silver bullet to accomplishing this, and it will take systems-level, cross-sector efforts that are intricately tied to community partnership and co-design.

Within this national conversation, there is a strong narrative about the “skills gap” between worker skills and employer needs. Many workers can and do benefit from investments in training and skill development, and that is one place we will focus our efforts in recovery. At the same time, there are additional barriers to employment that many community members face and that require consideration.

As of May 2021, we have twice the number of job seekers in Pierce County as we do available jobs. Complicating the picture, however, there are over 10,000 individuals who are not working but who we know possess skills matching those needed for open positions that are not being filled. We would be remiss to focus solely on training and skill development without aligning with efforts to address childcare, wage, housing, and transportation barriers that make returning to work a nonviable option for many in our community. We would be remiss if we didn’t center the racial and economic inequities embedded in these systems that create high barriers to employment regardless of skill sets and skill gaps. The solutions we need are multifaceted, and they start with centering the priorities identified by the very individuals we aim to support. The encouraging work led by many of our partner organizations in this realm is tied directly to the strength of our local workforce development system.

One of the myths that tends to circulate when we see a mismatch between supply and demand in the workforce is that the needs of businesses and those of workers are fundamentally at odds. As an organization serving both employers and job seekers, we see far too much alignment between what businesses need and what workers need to support that narrative. We see many businesses taking care of their people who are in turn committed to the places they work. What becomes critical when the needs of employers are framed as opposing the needs of workers is to remember that businesses, in fact, are made up of and led by community members. Our locally owned and managed businesses are fundamental to economic prosperity in Pierce County.

WorkForce Central’s role is to help bridge the gap between employers and workers to ensure a thriving economy. We do that by aligning business-centered and human-centered design and supporting employers right alongside job seekers. We’re looking forward to building on that model with our community partners as we move through the year.

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