Innovative Workforce Solutions in Ramsey County
29 Aug 2022
News, Workforce Stories
September is National Workforce Development Month - the perfect time to heighten awareness of the value of the local workforce development system and the tremendous impact local workforce boards make in helping people find gainful employment and advance their careers. This national focus also highlights the critical efforts of community involvement in helping employers find the quality workers they need.
As the second-most populous and most diverse county in Minnesota, Ramsey County faces many of the same workforce challenges as other communities throughout the country, with local employers having difficulty filling their open positions and yet some residents having difficulty finding employment. But there is a wide array of local resources intended to help. Residents in Ramsey County can seek assistance and programs to support them in overcoming barriers to employment through the efforts of Ramsey County Workforce Solutions, CareerForce, the statewide public workforce system and the Workforce Innovation Board of Ramsey County (WIB).
The WIB works to resolve both sides of this equation by developing strategic solutions for workforce challenges in Ramsey County through the collaborative power of various entities in the business, government, economic development, education and community arenas.
“At the WIB, we are committed to connecting jobs with job seekers,” said Chad Kulas, WIB chair. “Even more so, we seek to find the specific skills individuals need both now and for the future to find long-term careers across specific industries.”
At the WIB and in his role as the Midway Chamber of Commerce executive director, Kulas finds himself in a unique position to be knowledgeable about Ramsey County workforce issues.
“If you ask ten different people what workforce development is, you will probably get five different answers because it is such a broad topic,” he said. “While the union leader, professor, employer or worker may all have different answers, they all agree it is incredibly important.”
Workforce development is shifting from a past emphasis on creating jobs for job-seeking individuals to finding individuals interested in existing positions today.
“Economic demographers have been forecasting that scenario for years, but COVID-19 exacerbated the conditions to move the timeline up,” said Kulas.
The WIB has supported several innovative programs in partnership with Ramsey County to address the community’s workforce needs. During the pandemic, CareerForce offices were forced to close, severely limiting their ability to assist individuals during a time that may have been their greatest need. Along with Tech Dump, PCs For People, Literacy Minnesota and St. Paul Public Library, 2,150 TechPaks were distributed to Ramsey County residents. The TechPak’s included a laptop, internet access, a headset and Digital Navigator computer skills training, job training and more information. The program sought to increase employment, education and quality of life opportunities. Funding came via the CARES Act, with projections of $2.40 in social value for every $1 invested.
“When the CareerForce offices were closed, individuals who needed jobs but did not have access to the internet or were not technologically savvy to pursue other opportunities were at a real disadvantage at a time of great need,” said Kulas. “The TechPaks were an excellent alternative to help people find a job when they were out of work.”
As the pandemic wanes, in-person job fairs are back, such as the recent hiring events at the Arlington Hills Community Center, Ramsey County Library in Roseville and Allianz Field in the Midway Area. Job seekers met, discussed and applied for jobs with more than 50 local employers looking to fill positions of need nearby. Each of these events was a success and created meaningful connections between the residents and employers in those neighborhoods.
“We hope that if people can walk or take the bus or train to a job fair, they will be able to do the same with these jobs,” said Kulas. “Finding employment near a person’s home is incredibly beneficial to the community.”
Another initiative is the Inclusive Employer Champions program. Through this partnership, local chambers of commerce and economic development agencies will act as liaisons between area businesses, Ramsey County workforce programs and the broader county workforce ecosystem.
“The chambers help local employers be aware of what is available and be conduits to determine hiring practices that fit that pool,” said Kulas.
The WIB has also sponsored a series of Fair Opportunities events in partnership with Ramsey County designed to raise awareness among local employers about the value of hiring individuals who have been involved with the criminal justice system. The events have included roundtable discussions, resource tables, art exhibits and speakers to help employers understand the potential and benefits of hiring these individuals. A “Welcome Home Party and Fair Chances Hiring Fair” will be held on Saturday, September 10, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. at Ujamaa Place to provide a connection point between inclusive employers and this often overlooked talent pool.
The need for these and other programs will continue to be critical entering the fall, said Kulas.
“Many companies are looking for staff from entry-level positions to management because, even though we do not talk about it as much, the pandemic is still impacting the economic environment,” he said. “Employers and potential employees still have questions and the WIB will continue to provide the answers.”
Be part of the solution
Kulas said he is proud to be part of the 33-person WIB Board and their commitment to ensuring the board’s makeup reflects the community’s diversity. He also recognizes the invaluable efforts of the WIB members who collectively dedicated over 650 hours of service in 2021, working tirelessly to address Ramsey County’s workforce needs. The WIB is always looking for additional member engagement. Apply today to be part of the WIB as a board member or on one of its committees working directly to support the WIBs mission of matching businesses with needed talent and ensuring all Ramsey County residents have access to opportunity and prosperity through programs led by Ramsey County Workforce Solutions.