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At the last Board meeting for Westside Economic Alliance, they focused on closing the skills gap

At the last Board meeting for Westside Economic Alliance, we had the opportunity to learn about a creative new approach to closing the skills gap between our young people and local employers.

I want to make sure that all employers in our region are aware of this unique opportunity to access this valuable resource, help build a pipeline of qualified young workers and ensure all young people have a chance to engage in and benefit from our economic success.

Did you know that there are 30,000 young people in this region between the ages of 16-24 that have been identified as not in school and not working? In 2014, 30 percent of these were youth of color. Our region's manufacturers see these young adults as the largest pool of labor that never make it to their place of business. According to Norm Eder, a representative of Manufacturing 21 Coalition and current Westside Economic Alliance Board member and past president, this is an untapped and valuable resource in a very tight labor market.

Worksystems, Inc. has partnered with the Manufacturing 21 Coalition, All Hands Raised, the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and Washington County to address this gap through a program called Connect2Careers. The idea is to connect these young adults with good paying jobs through an online portal available at: c2cpdx.org

This new online resource provides employers a way to conveniently link to young adults who are certified work-ready. The system has a common application and offers young adults a number of pathways to build meaningful skills, increase experience, and invest their energy into great careers at local companies.

The program works like this. Connect2Careers has created applicant portal working with employers to identify available job opportunities and sets the bar on what essential skills an applicant needs to have in order to use the system. Applicants' skillsets are measured through an essential skills certificate, which in turn becomes a "digital badge" validating their competency. Once the applicant earns this "badge," their online profile becomes available to employers. The software system has algorithms to match employers with potential employees. If applicants don't have the skills they need to receive the essential skills certificate, there are resources available where they can go to gain these skills.

While the system has a high potential to close the gap between our unemployed or underemployed young adults, we need to inform and encourage all businesses, large and small, to participate. The benefits to participating companies include:

• The opportunity to build and tap into a pipeline of young, diverse, talented workers; Recognition as an industry leader in cultivating young professionals in the region;

• Cost savings through a stream-lined hiring process and cutting down on the time it takes to fill positions;

• Access to a strong and vetted candidate pool through the digital badging system;

Best of all, it doesn't cost anything for participating employers.

This is a great opportunity to encourage our younger generation and "float all boats," while filling a need in our economy. A lot of these young adults need a sustainable income and local businesses need skilled workers. Connect2Career bridges the gap to bring these two components together.

I would also like to add that Worksystems, Inc. is also an asset to our local economy. It funds programs that provide in-person training opportunities, so young people can build their work readiness skills, develop their resume and online profile, prepare for interviews, and learn about our local labor market. I encourage employers to get engaged by visiting the Connect2Career website at: c2cpdx.org or by contacting August Dao at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Mike Morey is the president of the Westside Economic Alliance Board of Directors. He works at The Standard and can be reached at: westsidealliance.org

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