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Q&A: Sue Lacy, president, ConxusNEO

December 12, 2020

The pandemic has had an impact on just about every aspect of business, including workforce development.

Crain’s wanted to gain some insight on how this year has been for those dedicated to workforce development. We recently chatted with Sue Lacy, president of ConxusNEO, Summit County’s workforce development agency, which works to match local training initiatives with the needs of area employers.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Have you seen a drop in workforce initiatives this year because of the pandemic? I’m guessing initiatives have changed gears quite a bit.

Initially, we were faced with thousands of layoffs, and the emphasis was on connecting people to unemployment benefits, making sure that they could access that opportunity as quickly as possible. And then when we began to come out of those initial layoffs, after stay-at-home orders were relaxed, workforce training slowed down due to no in-person classes, limited class sizes and uneven access to the internet to take advantage of online learning, where it was available. Initially, we were working with partners to increase access to the internet and to computers for that reason. Unfortunately, people who lost their jobs quickly were the ones who were least prepared to use anything beyond their phones to access information and opportunities. So, this great program, PCs for People, became very active here in Summit County to help.

What about on the demand side?

Instead of continuing with many of the worker training and upskilling that was underway, some companies have had to suspend those programs to focus on safety measures, keeping the doors open to retain their workforce. Though, initiatives to help those affected by job loss find new employment have remained pretty strong. Although, again, many of those efforts have had to transition to virtual platforms and strategies. Just supporting individuals to be able to take advantage of those opportunities continues to be a challenge, and making sure that everyone has equal access. The tragedy of it is that those populations that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID are the ones that are least likely to have access to these resources.

What kind of innovative initiatives have you seen as a result of the pandemic?

A fair number of manufacturing companies pivoted to begin making PPE for health care workers and other essential occupations. So we did a lot of work in partnership with the Ohio Manufacturing Association and MAGNET to get that information to manufacturers we work with, so that they could access the technical assistance and resources necessary to repurpose what they were doing. Training for existing employees was required. New hires needed skill sets for newly created positions. Companies had to figure out how to change the way they worked. For example, one company previously had the tire industry as its main customer, and now they’re making barriers for restaurants and schools, and making labels for Purell. They’re finding new markets that are keeping their business alive and well. And they’ve been able to hire people who have been displaced, like retail workers.

In addition to manufacturing, are you seeing other fields with changes in workforce demands?

One area that we’ve seen new levels of collaboration is within the health care industry. We’re fortunate to have three major health systems here in Akron. And increasingly they are playing extremely well in the sandbox together for obvious reasons. But in terms of innovating solutions for their workforce, maybe three or four months ago, the top leaders within each of the health systems met to anticipate some of the challenges they might face with their workforce as schools shifted schedules. We were really pleased to see HR leaders begin to share best practices to innovate solutions together. We introduced them to the Early Childhood Resource Center so that they could have a resource to be creative in terms of how they might support their workforce to deal with childcare challenges.

What’s ConxusNEO’s outlook to get through the next months, or even year, under circumstances presented by the pandemic?

One thing we need to do as a community is to more broadly share information about where the jobs and career opportunities are, and how people can either connect to those opportunities because they can transfer skills, or where they can connect to training or degree programs to pursue their interests. One of the challenges that we need to address is that most jobs happen because of a networking situation. About 75% of all the jobs that people get, they get because they know somebody or they’re connected to somebody. And because most of our leadership are not people of color, most of that networking produces the same results. One encouraging effort is called RAISE Good Jobs for Greater Akron, which we coordinate. The idea is that you take the company, the education and training partners, and wraparound services directly into the neighborhoods that need it most. So they can build relationships directly with companies. And you create an opportunity for folks to be exposed to high-demand industries where we anticipate good growth.

What else?

We’re seeing the beginning of a trend toward apprenticeship and other work-based learning opportunities. We’ve been convening a group of CIOs, who are reflecting on what our priorities should be around workforce, given the impact of the pandemic. For instance, we know that we will need higher level IT skills in our community. And we know our colleges and universities weren’t generating the level of talent we needed prior to the pandemic. So there’s now a conversation about what might we do to create IT apprenticeships, because part of the challenges has always been the demands of the industry evolve at such a rapid rate that it’s difficult for colleges to keep pace with that.

You recently held your Align workforce solutions event virtually. What were some of the biggest takeaways from that?

No. 1, the willingness of a company to be flexible around workforce issues will pay off when it comes to solving workforce challenges. No. 2, creativity and innovation are more important than ever to remain competitive, and that’s going to require the same when it comes to workforce development. Third, new kinds of partnerships are essential. And the last thing is being authentic, bold and candid in the way we approach diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace really matters.

Is there anything else you’d like to touch on?

Read original article here.

Walton, Sue. (2020, Dec 12) Q&A: Sue Lacy, president, ConxusNEO. Crain’s Cleveland Business.  Retrieved from https://www.crainscleveland.com/akron-news/qa-sue-lacy-president-conxusneo