Southern states should take steps to build a more inclusive regional economy by equipping job seekers of color and those from low-income communities with the training and credentials needed to pursue middle-skill job opportunities, a report from the National Skills Coalition and the Federal Reserve banks of Atlanta and St. Louis argues.
Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the report, Building a Skilled Workforce for a Stronger Southern Economy (36 pages, PDF), found that across the South there is a shortage of workers who can fill middle-skill jobs that require some postsecondary education or training, and that the skills gap makes it difficult for states to attract and retain new businesses, as well as for low-wage, low-skill workers to advance their careers. To create a thriving Southern economy, the report argues, states must create an inclusive workforce by providing opportunities for all Southerners — more than four in ten of whom are people of color — to boost their education and training. States also must address barriers that prevent many adults from working, building their skills, and advancing their careers, including burdensome transportation costs, onerous childcare costs, high incarceration rates, and restrictive policies for the formerly incarcerated.
The report outlines steps Southern states can take to help close the skills gap, including implementing workforce development strategies such as sector partnerships and work-based learning at the community level; establishing job-driven financial aid programs; creating career pathways that include comprehensive supportive services; using data to measure how training programs are helping residents with diverse needs secure good jobs; and creating a state-level inter-agency "Skills Cabinet" and tasking its leaders with implementing a strategy for meeting the state's postsecondary attainment goals.
"[T]he middle-skill gap isn't insurmountable," the report's authors note. "Southern states could step up to the challenge of educating more of the region's adults to close this gap. Focusing on grade-school students alone won't be enough to close the skills gap now. If each and every one of the South's graduating high school students were to stay in the region and train for open jobs that require postsecondary education, there would still be unfilled positions."
(Photo credit: Annie E. Casey Foundation)