A year-long study examining Central New York’s workforce finds there are plenty of jobs and plenty of people looking for work, but significant barriers to accessing those jobs. The report “How CNY Works” was presented Tuesday by the Onondaga Citizens League at its annual meeting.
Study co-chair Craig French says they went into the study knowing the city has the highest rate of extreme poverty among African Americans and Hispanics in the nation.
"Behind this study was that backdrop all the way through, understanding that we could not focus on the world of work without talking and thinking about the folks who are unable to access that to provide for themselves and their families."
The study’s other co-chair Mel Menon says barriers to employment range from lack of transportation or child care to the larger misalignment between job seekers and opportunities. She suggests employers look more closely at their hiring practices.
"They might find that some of the things they write into a job description could in effect create a barrier to someone who might be a great fit but would be discouraged from applying. There could be requirements that are listed that aren't rigid requirements. If you were to turn it over, you might see opportunities."
Menon says the barriers continue into the application process. She says there are several steps along the way that could eliminate job seekers even before they have a chance to interview.
"Every step of the way there's an opportunity for somebody to fail because they may not meet a certain requirement, or they may not make it past a phone screening, or they may not make it past the phase of submit their resume electronically," Menon said. "Whereas if somebody were to sit down and have a conversation with a prospective applicant, they may say, 'wow, you really seem to fit this line of work, the context of our work environment."
She says without that chance, applicants might just drop out of the workforce altogether.
"We found that there are a troubling number of people who are disconnected from the workforce or are not counted as part of it because they have literally given up on looking for opportunities," Menon said. "They have faced barriers that have been demoralizing to the point that is has started to feel pointless to even try, and that we cannot accept as a community."
So how can the area bridge the gap? Menon says one idea is to connect more businesses and residents to economic development decisions.
"We need real-time intelligence, people who are out in the private sector who run businesses and have jobs to offer and bring them into the process. At the same time, bringing in people who have not been at those tables to talk about economic development in their communities, in their neighborhoods, literally block by block.
She says that approach could include a navigator, someone seen as a neighborhood leader.
"The navigator is the person on the block who everybody knows, knows everything, or is a portal for information, or knows what questions to ask, or has observed people on the street as they've grown up, and has things they can say about where you might find an alignment or a match that would be a good match for individuals and businesses in the community."
Details on the navigator concept are still being worked out. This fall, the study co-chairs plan to take their findings into a variety of business and community settings to discuss ways to link people to jobs.
More about this study, past studies, and the Onondaga Citizens League can be found here.