Disadvantaged urban workers often find themselves in a double bind. They may be qualified for many entry-level jobs, but have no way of reaching suburban employment centers; they may also be easily able to reach many jobs nearby, but lack the qualifications for them. These two statements describe the interconnected problems of spatial mismatch and skills mismatch.
With a growing regional economy juxtaposed against persistent disadvantage in specific areas, and the accelerating buildout of the regional transit system, now is an opportune time to study the relationships between spatial mismatch and skills mismatch, between transit planning and workforce development in the Twin Cities. The current situation also offers an opportunity to influence the course of both for decades to come.
To this end, the authors studied the current state of spatial and skills mismatch in the region, as well as coordination between transit planning and workforce development and opportunities to improve that coordination by analyzing patterns and magnitudes of mismatch, identifying in-demand occupations with low education requirements and interviewing transit planners and workforce development professionals.
Access to job vacancies via transit varies greatly by industry and location within the region. While transit access is generally good in the inner city, some areas of intense disadvantage, such as North Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park and Midway have relatively poor access. Proposed regional transit improvements would offer local benefits to disadvantaged areas; the greatest benefits by far would come from implementing the proposed regional transitway system in its entirety. The overall regional impacts of proposed improvements would be considerably less, underscoring the need for transit-focused workforce and economic development.
Important “sweet spots” exist for locally-targeted workforce development efforts in the Twin Cities. In high-demand sectors, there are a significant number of occupations in which most job vacancies do not require postsecondary education and offer a livable median hourly wage—such as coaches and scouts in the educational services sector, customer service representatives in the financial services sector, nursing assistants in the health care and social assistance sector, customer service representatives in the management of companies and enterprises sector, machinists in the manufacturing sector, customer service representatives in the professional, scientific and technical services sector and heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in the transportation and warehousing sector. In addition, a number of occupations recur across sectors, presenting opportunities for combined training programs.
Both transit planners and workforce development professionals lend support to the basic premise of this project: while successful coordination of transit and workforce development is consistently acknowledged as beneficial, there is a strong perception of need for more such coordination. This appears to be particularly true in suburban areas where transit has traditionally had less relevance to workforce development than in urban areas with at least high levels of traditional bus service. There is also a broad realization that workforce development efforts cannot simply give clients a bus card and send them on their way in suburban areas—even assuming future transit improvements. Urban areas suffer less from this issue on the home end of disadvantaged workers‘ commutes, but connecting urban workers with suburban jobs requires addressing the same issues at the workplace end, especially in terms of the first mile-last mile problem.
The report concludes with policy recommendations centered on finding “sweet spots” for coordinated transit planning and workforce development and on creating a future transit system to serve the needs of disadvantaged workers:
Redefine “accessible” to focus on the jobs easiest to reach for workers without cars, both tightening focus on transit station areas and broadening focus as the regional transit system expands.
Consider the entire pipeline from individual workers, to transit-accessible jobs they can be trained for, by asking the following questions:
• What skills do the people who live in an area have?
• What jobs are they willing to do?
• What jobs fitting people’s skills and willingness can we provide training for?
• Which of those jobs can we connect people with via transit?
• How can we interest employers in hiring participating workers for those jobs?
Collect data on skills to help select occupations for training programs to focus on, tailor those programs to participants’ capabilities and needs, and make the case to employers that engagement will connect them with workers they need.
Identify employers who stand to benefit from engaging with workforce development and transit planning efforts. The employers may include those facing labor supply problems due to inaccessible suburban locations as well as those with ambitious goals for diverse hiring.
Redefine flexible transportation to take into account disadvantaged workers’ often complex lives and nontraditional schedules. Serving disadvantaged workers well with transit will mean fast, frequent, regular regional service, and local connections tailored to demand.
Engage with Transportation Management Organizations (TMOs) in addressing the important first mile/last mile problem. TMOs have an existing structure of coordinating diverse transportation options among a wide variety of stakeholders. This fact positions them well for further coordination with workforce development efforts.
Pursue diverse first mile/last mile solutions potentially including employer or district shuttles, car and/or bicycle sharing, or partnerships with transportation networking companies. First mile/last mile connections will need to be tailored to the spatial patterns of the industries in question as well.
Pursue transit-oriented economic development to direct future job growth to transit-friendly areas. Engaging with major employers facing labor supply problems and a need to attract talented young workers can bea starting point for job growth at all levels.
In closing, great challenges remain in the way of addressing the Twin Cities region’s spatial and skills mismatch issues, but the present is a uniquely opportune time to lay the groundwork for a new, coordinated approach to doing so. Transit corridors hold great potential to serve as leverage points to bring diverse stakeholder groups to the table, but the acceleration of the regional transit system buildout calls for making such contacts sooner rather than later.
For more information, download the full research report (6.4 MB PDF).