Tens of thousands of good-paying jobs will be created in Oregon that do not require four-year college degrees. These jobs will allow communities of color to take advantage of the region's economic growth — if barriers to them can be removed, according to a report released last Wednesday by Partners in Diversity, an affiliate of the Portland Business Alliance Charitable Institute.
The report says the jobs will be created across multiple sectors of the economy, including manufacturing (8,200 jobs), healthcare (11,967 jobs) and skilled trades (15,911). On average, they provide far better pay and benefits than unskilled jobs that do not require college degrees.
"More people in diverse communities need access to living-wage jobs, and employers need more options to recruit a range of talent locally. Employees with diverse backgrounds are more refective of the world's consumers and their preferences, which bring globally competitive advantages to local business," says the report, titled "Building Workforce Diversity: The Portland Region's Workforce of Tomorrow."
But the report found several obstacles that must be overcome for minorities and immigrants to fill those jobs. Traditional job recruitment methods are not always effective in their communities. Language barriers must be removed at both the recruting stage and throughout the employment period. And potential employers do not always recognize education, training and work experience gained in other counties.
"The research from the Building Workforce Diversity report pointed to valuable solutions that can lead to reaching one of OBC's goals of reducing poverty. The resources developed by Partners in Diversity can be used by all employers to recruit more people of color into better wage jobs as well as for job seekers to help find higher wage jobs," says former Multnomah County Chair Bev Stein, who is now a consultant with the Oregon Business Council, which partnered on the project.
The issue of previous education and experience is especially important. A recent report from the Migration Policy Institute identified that between 2009 and 2013, Oregon had 55,000 highly skilled immigrants with at least a bachelor's degree. Of those, 27 percent were working in low-skill jobs or were unemployed. The annual value of their lost earnings amounted to $272.5 million during the period surveyed. If these immigrants had instead been employed to the level of their original credentials, their households would have paid an additional $27.7 million in state and local taxes.
According to the Partners in Diversity report, there are successful program models in other states and in Canada that Oregon could use to put these individuals back to work in professional roles. One example is the Welcome Back Initiative, which currently operates in nine states. The initiative offers workforce training and resources to immigrants with advanced degrees seeking to recertify their credentials.
"This report conclusively demonstrates the opportunities we have throughout the communities of color in our region to put people to work," says Andy Nelson, deputy director or Impact NW and vice chair of Partners in Diversity. "It provides our employers a clear path forward to tap into this wealth of talent. We couldn't be more excited to get this engaged labor force into full employment."
From the beginning, the Workforce Diversity Project was guided by a steering committee representing local businesses, unions, educators and communities of color. Its work was assisted by researchers from Portland State University who studied the Portland-metro's manufacturing, health care and skilled trades sectors, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the American Community Survey. The researchers identified who is working in what job and at what wage level by looking at race, labor pool, educational attainment and wages. They also looked at the job market forecast in the three identified industry sectors for positions that require no more than a two- year degree.
To gain the broadest understanding possible, researchers worked with community representatives to conduct a survey in nine languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Persian, Russian, Spanish, Swahili and Vietnamese. In total, 547 paper and online surveys were completed. In addition, 165 individuals from 10 communities of color were interviewed, including individuals of African, African American, Bhutanese, Chinese, Latino-Mexican, Middle Eastern, Native American, Pacific Islander, Slavic and Vietnamese descent.
The report highlighted the following strategies job recruiters and employers can use to overcome these obstacles to full employment:
• Raise awareness of existing resources and workforce organizations. Although multiple workforce organizations exist in the metro region, many minority and immigrant communities are unaware or do not have access to them.
"One of our key learnings from the research was that people in communities of color do not use traditional methods of finding jobs. The resource guides we developed to assist both job seekers and human resource recruiters could substantially assist in our regional efforts towards increasing workforce diversity," says Mari Watanabe, executive director of Partners in Diversity.
• Address language difficulties by providing translation and interpreter resources for employers and job seekers.
• Providing pathways for re-credentialing programs for immigrants and refugees with advanced degrees and professional certifications not recognized in the U.S. There is a community-wide need for these workers to secure re-credentialing programs.
The report was funded by the Portland Business Alliance, Meyer Memorial Trust, the Oregon Business Council and the Oregon Community Foundation. You can read it at http://tinyurl.com/y9ffuj7w.