5 Workforce Strategies to Increase Economic Opportunity

This post is the first installment in NLC’s Economic Mobility and Opportunity Blog Series.

It’s not too late to make a New Year’s resolution to help your residents gain a solid financial footing. The National League of Cities’ (NLC) recent report offers a road map to help you achieve that commitment.

Keeping the American Dream Alive: Expanding Economic Mobility and Opportunity in America’s Cities, released last November, features 33 recommendations from Cleveland city councilmember and NLC Immediate Past President Matt Zone’s Task Force on Economic Mobility and Opportunity, which was chaired by former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and included 22 diverse elected officials from across the country. The report details the many key concerns city leaders have as they strive to build and maintain vibrant communities, because the financial health of every city depends on the economic mobility and opportunity for its residents.

Each blog in this four-part series highlights recommendations focused on four strategy areas in the report, including equitable economic development; housing affordability; jobs, wages and workforce development; and financial inclusion.


Expanding Access to High-Wage Jobs and Opportunities Through Workforce Development Strategies. City leaders can play a crucial role in helping residents become more attractive to employers by implementing policies and practices that expand economic opportunities and mobility, such as increasing wages or offering workers supports to ensure consistent employment.

Align city departments that plan economic development projects with local workforce development and education agencies. City leaders can ensure strong communication and alignment between city departments that oversee economic development and those that operate education and training programs as a way to strengthen career pathways for residents.  Too often these departments are siloed and do not work together to prepare residents for jobs created by new or future economic development projects. Large-scale city construction projects are often planned many years in advance, which allows time to develop new training and recruitment options local workers.

The City of Charlotte, North Carolina Economic Development Department operates the Partnership for Inclusive Employment and Career Excellence (or P.I.E.C.E) aimed at helping residents find jobs and keep them by identifying industries with labor shortages and expectations for growth and providing training opportunities.

Focus on high-growth employment sectors for expanding workforce development opportunities for unemployed residents. City leaders can identify promising sectors or industries and bring together the key players necessary to create accessible career pathways for residents. This creates pipelines of opportunity that can be targeted to residents in neighborhoods with high unemployment. A city can also encourage these employers to participate in local youth employment and training programs.

Seeing many new construction projects underway or in development in the City of Nashville, Mayor Megan Barry launched the Nashville Construction Readiness Partnership (NCRP) which provides six weeks of training for those new to construction employment and is paired with a new regulation encouraging developers to hire city residents.

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Think creatively about how to reach residents who are considered “hardest to employ” and support the organizations and services that interact regularly with these residents. Cities can partner with organizations and trusted leaders in communities with high unemployment by bringing work support services, such as child care, housing or transportation assistance to workers who experience multiple challenges to maintaining consistent employment.

The City of Charlottesville, Virginia initiated the Growing Opportunity Training Programs (GO) to help chronically unemployed residents find and retain jobs after pre-employment training for work in public transportation, electrician apprenticeships and nursing assistant certification.

Implement a living wage and improved benefits policy for city employees. Cities, which are often one of the largest employers in a region, can set municipal employee wage rates at levels that reflect the cost of living in the region and increase over time to reflect a growing cost of living in a way that ensures wages and benefits are competitive and help families move toward financial stability. Cities adopting this approach can serve as an example to local employers – potentially sparking private sector wage increases for residents.

The City of East Point, Georgia increased the lowest wage for all city employees to $13.50 an hour with plans to gradually raise it to reflect the local cost of living and impact city vendors and contractors to increase competitiveness.

Require employers within the city to provide paid leave for illness, the care of a family member in need and other crises or family emergencies. Cities can require employers located within city boundaries to provide hours of accrued paid leave for their employees. This includes workers who take care of young children or older relatives may have few or no options due to illness or other emergencies, putting their jobs at risk if they need time off to care for themselves or family members.

The City of Oakland, California requires employers in the city to provide at least one hour of paid sick leave for their employees for every 30 hours worked. The law also requires employers to increase the minimum wage annually based on the Consumer Price Index.

The full report, Keeping the American Dream Alive: Expanding Economic Mobility and Opportunity in America’s Cities, offers a window into how cities can implement these strategies, as well as additional strategies related to jobs, wages and workforce development.

Next week we will highlight equitable economic development strategies in blog two of our series on economic mobility and opportunity.

Courtney_Coffin2_ready.jpgAbout the authors: Courtney Coffin is the senior associate for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Courtney at coffin@nlc.org.



heidi_goldberg_125x150Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.