Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Cleveland, Ohio area. While I went through areas that had been the home to manufacturing and industry that was long since gone, the area certainly did not look like a rust belt.
New construction, expanded highways and growing employers have replaced the rust. It did not happen by accident, but through planning, partnerships between the communities and employers, and a desire to avoid sinking in failure.
A couple of weeks ago the New York Times published an article with the same basic theme. Forward looking communities have been able to thrive in spite of manufacturing downturns, and the workforce has become determined to be a part of the success.
The author of the article, Thomas Friedman, states one of the contributing factors in the decline seen in some areas was, “too many people in the community failing to realize that to be in the middle class now required lifelong learning — not just to get a job but to hold one.”
He believes soft skills are one of the keys in building successful; employees. He states, “Soft skills also include the willingness to be a lifelong learner, because jobs are changing so quickly.”
Communities are also recognizing the importance of unions in helping build a learning workforce. Mayor Madeline Rogero of Knoxville, Tennessee stated,
“Until the mid-1980s, the old economic development model here was low wages and no unions. That model wasn’t sustainable. We wanted better schools, and you cannot build a great school system on the back of low-wage workers. So we started thinking about what are our unique assets and stopped selling ourselves as a low-wage town.”
Unions have long-recognized the importance of training for their members. Programs such as the “nickel-funds” found in many union contracts have traditionally focused on hard skills. Now, they feature training in soft skills CALMC has partnered with unions and employers to help build in these areas for the benefit of both employees and employers. Trained employees are better able to participate in an employee engagement process.
Friedman quotes President Bill Clinton, who said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.” The areas I saw around Cleveland exemplify this. Communities and citizens have a choice: partner together to build strong employers for the future or watch themselves slide into unemployment, addiction, and oblivion.
As Friedman concludes, “Only strong communities, not a strong man, will make America great again.”