The final half-day forum held in advance of the Solutions Summit was on jobs – a broad topic that touches on many different areas in need of improvement or change in Baltimore.
In fact, the challenges around workforce development in Baltimore are so widespread, this forum had the most participants of all three – nearly 200 people.
Co-chaired by Joseph T. Jones, founder of the Center for Urban Families, and OSI-Baltimore Deputy Director Tracy Brown, the October 29th forum dug into a list of 20 potential solutions focused on economic development and employer engagement; education and training; managing barriers and worker protections; and coordinating city-wide systems. Initially, the jobs planning group started its work mainly with people well-known in the city’s workforce development arena, Jones said.
“But coming after Freddie Gray and the unrest, in the middle of a political season locally and across the country, there were many groups that were just getting into workforce work. They weren’t the usual players. We created space in the room for those community voices to come forward and, just having them there, I became much more energized,” Jones said. “We ended up having a rich diversity of experiences and thoughts and ideas.”
The forum attendees were tasked with keeping in mind several things as they worked to narrow the longer list of recommendations down to 10, including: linking workforce and economic development to achieve equity and economic inclusion; applying a structural racism lens to all policies and programs, and; recognizing the distinct needs of youth and young adults, among other things.
Having young people as a focal point of the recommendations and represented at the forum was critical, Jones said. In fact, Jones spent a good part of the forum seated at a table with young people, and the experience was especially rewarding.
“I sat down with 8-10 young people between ages 14-17. Some of the terminology was above their heads; we had to explain what a labor market analysis was to them, for example,” Jones said. “But once they got that basic understanding, these kids, they said, ‘We don’t need you anymore. We got this.’ It’s a good reminder that these are the kinds of things we need to continually do if we want to be successful. It’s not that people aren’t intellectually able to do this work. If you give them space and the agency to understand what it is they’re being exposed to, they have the capability of making decisions just like everybody else.”
After working in groups, participants voted using mobile technology and the final 10 recommendations were presented alongside a slate of other priorities – in the areas of justice and behavioral health – at the December 10 Solutions Summit.