By Kevin Dick, Economic Development Director
City of Charlotte
When I started working for the City of Charlotte in May 2016, I immediately became excited about the opportunity to connect my economic and talent development experiences by working in both areas simultaneously. The challenge before the City, then and now, is the struggle to translate rampant economic growth in so many of the City’s major job centers to economic development community-wide.
The results of a 2015 study showed Charlotte dead last, 50th out of 50 cities, in terms of economic mobility opportunities for its residents. The challenge was clear – how would we make sure the community knew that the City and its partners were taking the problem seriously and working to bridge gaps between so-called haves and have-nots? And, how would the City help address significant labor market shortages in both the public and private sectors that were making it difficult for the sectors to keep up with the City’s rapid pace of growth?
The answer to both challenges was sought within an equitable economic development framework – one that involves translating economic growth into economic development community-wide. We needed to prepare talent and identify the right private sector and not-for-profit partners to embark upon this business-driven initiative with us.
After months of planning and program development, Partnership for Inclusive Employment and Career Excellence or Project P.I.E.C.E. was born:
• “P” for Partnership is significantly important. Partnerships with groups of businesses we call Corporate Advisory Councils help companies connect to the curriculum, the trainees and recruitment events that allow them to hire. The City is also partnering with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and Urban League of the Central Carolinas on this initiative, who partner with each other on training, joint intake and the enrollment process.
• “I” for Inclusive means that people with multiple barriers to employment are being sought – those individuals that are on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.
• “E” for Employment - this has been elusive to many that will be trained in this program.
• “C” - Career – we’re not just looking to connect people to jobs; we are attempting to get them onto career trajectories in high demand industries.
• “E” - Excellence – we want to provide skills to help people not just be placed and be retained in employment for at least six months, but to also help them advance. Three training areas – residential and commercial construction, highway and roadway construction and broad band and fiber optic cabling were sought. Labor market shortages abound in all; also, all three industries are known to be “friendly” to those with multiple barriers to employment, such as a criminal background.
It’s been really gratifying to engage the community – from direct outreach and recruitment of potential trainees to facilitating corporate advisory councils and hosting our First Family Inclusion Night last Thursday at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus. There, we celebrated the accomplishments of students from the first project P.I.E.C.E. cohort that completed many work readiness activities from soft skills training, resume building, mock interview techniques and certification requirements. A large contingent of City of Charlotte officials attended including Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield and Councilwoman Julie Eiselt.
This challenge of overcoming economic mobility in Charlotte won’t be solved overnight but we continue to tackle the issue head on - one PIECE at a time. If your company wants to learn more about participating in Project P.I.E.C.E, contact Kevin Dick at Kevin.Dick@ci.charlotte.nc.us.