The Future of Work is Bright: Six Cities Meet in Austin to Discuss Equitable Pathways to Postsecondary and Workforce Success

In so many cities that are now seeing the benefits of the nation’s sustained economic growth since 2009, it feels like the local economy and labor market are changing at lightning speed.  In the midst of these rapid changes, new questions abound:

  • What is the future of work?
  • How can city leaders help their communities – including employers, workers, students and K-12 and higher education systems – prepare for the jobs of tomorrow?
  • And perhaps most importantly, how can cities tackle the tough issues of equity to ensure that no one is left behind?

Earlier this week, multi-sector teams from six cities — Austin, Texas, Charleston, South Carolina, Corpus Christi, Texas, Houston, Texas, Jacksonville, Florida, and Nashville, Tennessee — gathered in Austin, for the latest Mayors’ Institute hosted by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families to share their progress in building equitable pathways to postsecondary and workforce success and discuss strategies for tackling these difficult issues. The convening was made possible by the generous support of The Kresge Foundation.


From left to right: Corpus Christi, Texas Mayor Joe McComb; Austin, Texas Mayor Steve Adler; Charleston, South Carolina Mayor John Tecklenberg; Texas Municipal League Executive Director Bennett Sandlin in Austin to discuss building equitable pathways to postsecondary and workforce success. 

NLC President and Little Rock, Arkansas, Mayor Mark Stodola has selected the future of work as a key theme for his leadership term this year. This week’s Mayors’ Institute on Workforce Pathways is the first of many NLC events and publications that will highlight the challenges and opportunities facing municipal leaders as the forces of technological innovation and globalization reshape the workforce needs of local employers and the skills that residents will need to compete in the job market.

The Mayors’ Institute featured detailed case statements by three prominent mayors: Austin Mayor Steve Adler; Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg; and Corpus Christi, Texas, Mayor Joe McComb. Each mayor summarized his city’s progress to date and then described the key obstacles that the city must overcome to achieve its goals for postsecondary and workforce success. High-level teams from Houston, Jacksonville and Nashville also presented case statements in a similar format.

Following each presentation, the city teams received detailed feedback on the problems they are facing with practical suggestions regarding promising models, potential funding sources and valuable tools and resources. To supplement ideas offered by their peers from other cities, expert faculty provided additional guidance and advice.

The Mayors’ Institute faculty included representatives from The Kresge Foundation, Biden Foundation, American Association of Community Colleges, PolicyLink, Jobs for the Future and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. NLC’s corporate partner, LinkedIn, has worked closely with participating cities throughout the two-year project, providing data analysis support through their Economic Graph Labor Market Insights and also contributing to the discussions during the Mayors’ Institute.

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As one of the culminating events at the conclusion of two years of NLC technical assistance to these six cities, NLC designed the Mayors’ Institute to promote peer learning and problem solving, connect city leaders to national experts and enable city teams to plan next steps to sustain and scale their efforts.

While their work is not yet done, the achievements of these six cities to date are truly inspiring and point to what’s possible through strong city leadership.

Working with their local chambers of commerce, community colleges, school districts and other stakeholders, the cities have generated exciting examples of how to engage employers, align postsecondary degree and certificate programs with emerging industry needs, partner with school districts to create pipelines into these programs and increase awareness and enrollment within traditionally disadvantaged and underserved populations.

Across these city efforts, the importance of mayoral leadership, the power of multi-sector partnerships and the essential role of data in driving effective strategies are immediately evident and continually reinforced. With equity at the center of their work, these cities are also demonstrating that economic growth and equity are not in competition with one another but rather essential complements for any city that aspires to thrive in the 21st Century economy.

Future blog posts will highlight in more detail the lessons emerging from NLC’s work to promote pathways to postsecondary and workforce success. In addition, NLC will host a national briefing on this topic in late April at its Local Government Conference Center in Washington, D.C. Visit our CitiesSpeak blog post series on the Summer Road Trip we took to these cities to learn more about this initiative.

Cliff_Johnson_125x150About the author: Clifford M. Johnson is the Executive Director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.