Google Fiber, the new streetcar and a booming downtown have all helped Kansas City recruit talented young people, Mayor Sly James said when a group of mayors sat down to talk about workforce development at Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s Conference on Economic Development.
Not so long ago, he observed, people moved to a place because a job was available. “Now you move to the city you like and you find or make your own job.”
But that enviable kind of choice belongs to the highly skilled and well educated, James noted. And not everyone in Kansas City fits into those categories. “Although unemployment is low in the majority community, it is not low in our minority communities,” he said, and used the forum to repeat his call for free or affordable preschool for all Kansas City children.
The immediate challenge, however, is recruiting and retaining qualified people to fill the jobs that are available now.
“We have far more jobs available than we have available workers,” Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said. Many of those jobs don’t require a college degree, he said. But they do require specific skills. The city looks to Ozarks Technical Community College, headquartered in Springfield, to match programs with employer needs.
Cape Girardeau has a similar job availability surplus, Mayor Bob Fox said. The Chamber of Commerce is grooming prospective workers by, among other things, teaching the “soft skills” that can help someone succeed in the workplace. And city government has tried to keep up with the times by using new ways to reach workers — like creative videos touting certain jobs and the benefits of working in the public sector.
All of the mayors said they could use more help from state government, such as funds to make portions of their cities more physically appealing to employers and workers, and grants for specific job-training programs.
“I think we need more flexibility,” Fox said. “Cities need help with innovation.”
James agreed. “We are judged every day by our service deliveries,” he said. “We have to fill the holes the state doesn’t fill. There’s only so far we can go with innovation, but we will get the job done one way or the other.”
— Kansas City PBS is examining the issue of workforce development as part of its participation in the national American Graduate: Getting to Work project, an initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Follow #AmGradKCPT on Facebook and Twitter for local American Graduate content and #AmGrad to see content from across the United States.
—Barbara Shelly is a veteran journalist and writer based in Kansas City. Follow Flatland @FlatlandKC.