Where’s the Gap?: Unemployment and Education

Unemployment 3Purpose
Omaha’s unemployment rate is highest east of 72nd Street (American Community Survey 5-Year Estimate). Eight zip code areas are above the national unemployment rate of 6.7%. Many of these areas are two or even three times higher than Omaha’s unemployment rate of 4.0%. In Pilot Project Two we were able to identify education as one issue that may prevent the unemployed from obtaining employment. Pilot Project Three will focus on the role education has in employment as we work towards providing a better economy for all Omahans.

We invited key stakeholders who provide services to the unemployed and work on unemployment issues in Omaha. We also invited employers and unemployed individuals to the conversation. While using education as the topic, we hoped to arrive at an innovative solution to closing the gap between education and employment.

The Meeting
In the weeks before the meeting we went from a three-person team to a two-person team as Michelle left Omaha Public Library to take a full time position with the Girl Scouts. Michelle was able to help us plan much of the meeting. She also worked on the resource guide.

Since October was a busy month for our schedules, we had to plan an early October meeting. After sending out a doodle poll with possible dates, we quickly settled on October 6th for our meeting date.

We did not have time to practice our meeting since we had such a short turnaround time. We did have time to prepare a well-fleshed out meeting plan and go over our Cherry Split activity. It also helped that we were doing a follow-up topic so had an earlier meeting plan to use as a starting point.

Despite being rushed we were confident on the morning of the event. We felt prepared and able to handle whatever came our way. This confidence was gained by doing two previous pilot projects and practice facilitating at work and other meetings. We are not yet skilled facilitators but have developed confidence. We are also secure in our abilities and shortcomings.

Turnout was low. Although only seven people attended, they were all engaged and everyone participated. Surprisingly, most people did not know each other. None had attended the Pilot Project Two meeting in April. Two additional people arrived late and left early. Our experience helped us get through these potential challenges smoothly. We just went with the flow. We had the attendees fill out surveys and contact sheets including those who arrived late and left early. Although we had not entirely worked out our roles earlier, we went with our strengths and worked well together during the meeting.

As the attendees didn’t know each other, the icebreaker was more important than expected. The attendees enjoyed discussing successful job interviews. It was very good that we had planned to cover the statistics presented at the Pilot Project Two meeting. This activity again set a good context for the discussion.

It was a bit more challenging to have this group continue the follow-up goals of the Pilot Project Two meeting. There was less focus on education’s role in moving from unemployment to employment than expected. This might have been an earlier stumbling block but we adapted and focused on what the attendees wanted to discuss.

The Cherry Split activity worked well. It was a bit slow to start. In hindsight, an example would have been helpful which we might have realized if we had practiced before our meeting. However we got good results. Some real plans developed. We both feel that the activity is one to use in future facilitations.

Although we thought we’d identify only one topic, Cherry Split worked well enough that we took two topics and worked on them. We ended up with two projects. The participants made connections and some swapped contact information. A few stayed to talk to one another and us after the meeting.

Unemployment and education is definitely a topic that needs to be discussed. It keeps coming up. Although the attendees were well-informed and passionate about their work, there is no umbrella group that brings them together. Since we set expectations pretty well, the group isn’t necessarily planning to meet again. We were clear about what we could and could not do as facilitators.

After the meeting we continue to feel positive. We feel good about how we worked together, how the meeting went, and what was achieved at the meeting. Completing the follow-up was the most difficult task. We lost a bit of momentum after the event. Although the survey results from the meeting were positive (100% response rate), no one responded after the meeting (0% response rate). We’re not sure if it’s because we delayed sending out the follow-up survey or what happened. We have not organized a second meeting. However, we are working on an Unemployment Resource Guide and hope to have it done by the end of the year.

Unemployment continues to be an important topic in Omaha, particularly east of 72nd Street. We still hear about projects to train those seeking jobs. These Urban League of Nebraskaprojects include A Game training being done by the Urban League of Nebraska (as well as others) and a new Construction Center being built at Metro Community College’s Fort Omaha campus in response to a need identified by the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Skills Gap Plagues State Workforce, Omaha World Herald, November 5, 2014).

This is not an issue that is going to go away or be fixed quickly. It is an issue that many, throughout the city and beyond, are working on. The Omaha Public Library can lend our support and resources. We will continue to have patrons who need help with job applications. We will also continue to partner with various organizations to assist the unemployed throughout the Omaha area.

Posted by Amy Mather and Deirdre Routt with assistance from Michelle Carlson, Facilitators-in-Training

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