Opportunity Collaborative plan reveals key findings

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The Baltimore region needs to better connect job seekers to middle-skill jobs and ways to get to these jobs, according to the Opportunity Collaborative’s Regional Plan for Sustainable Development.

“One of the problems that Baltimore faces – it’s a national issue – there aren’t enough mid-skill jobs, jobs for someone with less than a college degree but more than a high school diploma,” said Michael B. Kelly, executive director of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. “We (the Baltimore region) have one of the highest educated workforces in the country and we also have a huge portion of our economy that’s low-skill, low-education.”

Kelly provided an overview of the Collaborative’s Regional Plan for Sustainable Development to young professionals at a February 20 meeting at the Greater Baltimore Committee. The plan is expected to be completed in May.

This was the fourth of four meetings meant to engage young professionals in the Greater Baltimore region on the Collaborative’s work and receive feedback.

The Collaborative, staffed and coordinated by the BMC, is a consortium of more than 25 local and state government, nonprofit and university partners, including the GBC. The Collaborative began a three-year process in 2012 to link the region’s housing, workforce development and transportation plans with a specific focus on reducing economic disparities. The effort is funded by a $3.5 million Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Key findings from the Collaborative’s Baltimore Talent Development Pipeline Study highlights six industries that offer the best middle-skill jobs in the region, Kelly said.

The sectors are healthcare, construction, information technology, transportation and logistics, business services and manufacturing.

“When we did our labor market analysis, we tried to find the employment sectors that created these mid-skill opportunities,” Kelly said.

The study also revealed that in 2012 there were 105,000 unemployed people in the Baltimore region. However, the projected hiring for 39 middle-skill occupations from 2012 to 2020 is 36,000, which “have the potential to pay a family supporting wage” of approximately $22 per hour, Kelly said.

Kelly cited a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study which found that $22 per hour is a supporting wage for a single parent with one child in Baltimore City.

“These mid-skill jobs in Baltimore and our region average about $20 per hour,” he said. “It’s a close enough corollary that we think they’re important enough to start filling.”

However, these job seekers face a myriad of employment opportunity barriers that include a lack of education, training and skills, transportation and housing, Kelly said.

A barriers study of about 30 of the region’s larger employers and 1,200 job seekers from various career centers revealed that 82 percent of respondents cited three or more of the nearly 20 barriers listed, Kelly said.

“The scarier number is that 55 percent of the respondents on the survey listed six or more barriers,” he said.

In addition to employment barriers, job sprawl was also analyzed.

“In the Baltimore region in 2000, 43 percent of our job share was more than 10 miles from downtown, in the 10 to 35 miles range,” Kelly said. “In 2010, 50 percent of our region’s job opportunities were more than 10 miles from downtown.

“Nationally, job sprawl is a major issue,” he said. “Baltimore is actually outpacing the rest of the country in suburban job growth.”

Baltimore’s transit system was constructed with all roads leading to downtown, the core business area, Kelly said.

“As job growth pops up around the region, and it doesn’t happen in a dense enough way, these job centers can’t support transit,” Kelly said.`

Thirteen employment centers in the region with middle-skill jobs, particularly in the downtown, southeastern Baltimore and Nursery Road areas, were identified for the study, Kelly said. Accessibility to these “transit sheds” by public transportation was also examined.

“It’s the connectivity issue that’s a real challenge in a place that should be transit accessible,” Kelly said. “This is the pattern of suburban job growth around the region. There just has not been coordination about where we’re going to incentivize companies to go which is a lot easier to say than it is to do. The zoning hasn’t been coordinated to create these dense areas.”

Company-supported van pools and transit systems are an alternative to public transportation but aren’t abundant in the Greater Baltimore region.

“We don’t have a large, dense employer like Google in San Francisco or Microsoft in Seattle,” Kelly said. “Those companies run their own transit systems that rival the locals and that’s simply not something that we have here. So our solution as we look forward, in 10, 20, 30 years, is to think what we can do to create job hubs that would support a density to connect these folks.”

To view Kelly’s presentation, click here.

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