Towards a Brighter Economic Future For All

Notes from Executive Director Steve Cramer – Winter 2012

2012 is coming to a close with more hopeful signs about the economy compared to the recent past, and one big cloud. The much discussed “fiscal cliff,” if unresolved, could set employment back in a significant way, experts tell us. The consequences are predicted to be so severe that it seems most likely a solution will be found. So I’m assuming our slow but building recovery will continue, and asking myself what that will mean in coming years for the people PPL serves through our employment and training programs.

In broad terms, the answer is that there is some good news, and many continued challenges.

One of our central strategies has been to partner closely with employers in key sectors of the economy, starting with healthcare in the late 90’s. This healthcare focus was an outgrowth of the “Phillips Partnership,” a premier public – private – community initiative still active in south Minneapolis. Initial employer partners in our Train to Work program—Abbott Northwestern and Children’s hospitals—have since been joined by North Memorial, Park Nicollet, Hennepin County Medical Center, Allina corporate offices, social enterprise ventures, and Augustana. Collectively, they have hired nearly 1,000 community residents trained by PPL. While healthcare is changing with demographic trends and pressure to contain costs, everyone expects substantial employment growth in this area. So there are more placement opportunities ahead.

A steadfast partner in this effort is the Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). Today, we are working together to equip disadvantaged jobseekers with post-secondary credentials and soft skills training that reflect workforce demands. This is valued in healthcare and many other sectors of the economy showing signs of life these days, and gives some of the people we work with a valuable leg up in the labor market.

But we know MCTC and like institutions aren’t for everyone walking through the doors of our Learning Center at Chicago and Franklin. Limited academic attainment, poor language skills, or life circumstances like a past criminal history remain significant barriers to employment success. A steady but modest recovery won’t change that reality, especially as the trend toward higher order skills required even for entry-level jobs accelerates along with the overall economy. With this group of people PPL serves—who by the way, often demonstrate tremendous motivation and resilience in their quest for better economic circumstances—we all have our work cut-out for us. The community must find ways for these folks to earn a living, not get along supported by a fraying safety net.

Direct employment by “social enterprise” ventures run by our affiliate Project for Pride in Living Enterprises (and other like organizations) is one way to help men and women facing the hardest road to employment get started. And a stronger economy should help create more such opportunities as business activity increases. This equation is simple: more revenue, more training slots to fill.

Ultimately, in an economic system driven increasingly by knowledge, critical thinking, and service excellence, we face a dual challenge. We need to help people who today are ill-equipped for this job marketplace gain these skills, while ensuring that our education and training system fully  prepares young people for a successful future in the economy they will face.

PPL staff know this is hard work because we do it every day, most often with success. So returning to where I started, I am feeling hopeful as the year ends. And I’m feeling thankful for your support which makes PPL’s work possible! Have a joyous holiday season.

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