Connecting Education and Work in Greenville, SC

Walking along the wide, tree-lined Main Street of downtown Greenville, S.C., it is hard to imagine that just 40 years ago the same path was deserted. Dozens of locally owned restaurants, luxury condos and hotels, and bustling shops belie the city’s history. The city is now a hub of advanced manufacturing, engineering, information technology, and other high-growth industries.

Like many other former mill towns across the South, Greenville’s economy centered on textile manufacturing for much of the 20th century. But unlike many others, Greenville successfully diversified its economy before globalization and technological innovation sent many jobs overseas. In the early 1970s, Michelin invested in the Upstate region, followed by several other automotive manufacturers, and by the mid-1990s, BMW had established a major auto assembly plant in the area. But despite Greenville’s strong economy and national recognition, not all of the city’s residents have benefitted from its prosperity. “A young person’s economic prospects should not be determined by his or her zip code,” says John Concklin, program investment manager at United Way of Greenville County. “Unfortunately, in the area known as the ‘White Horse Corridor,’ prospects for a successful future are tough—32 percent of households live in poverty; 66 percent have only a high school diploma or less; unemployment is greater than 25 percent in some sections; and the city’s lowest performing high schools are found here.” In many of these neighborhoods, students lack the work experiences and information they need to make decisions about how to prepare and compete for family-sustaining jobs. For some students, particularly those living in neighborhoods with high unemployment, there is mistrust of manufacturing jobs, since their parents were laid off when textile jobs were outsourced.

While some young people are skeptical of the labor market, some employers are skeptical of the labor force. In 2007, a study found that two-thirds of Greenville-area companies could not find enough qualified entry-level workers, skilled-production workers, as well as engineering and IT professionals. To solve this problem in the short term, many businesses are relying on young transplants, who are attracted by the density of well-paying jobs and a vibrant downtown. But civic leaders know that talent recruitment isn’t a viable long-term solution for businesses or the community, though that is sometimes a hard case to make. Traci Wickett, president and CEO of the United Way of Southern Cameron County in Brownsville, TX, believes that helping employers understand the potential in the local labor force is always worth the effort. She explains here:


Like Wickett’s efforts in Brownsville, organizations in Greenville are taking the lead on infusing work exposure and experience that is beneficial for both young people and employers. In 2012, the Chamber of Commerce created an Education & Workforce Committee to facilitate integration between business and the school system. By 2014, the Chamber was a part of the schools’ strategic planning process and participated in the search process for the current superintendent. The Chamber’s approach to educational involvement is wide-ranging, supporting efforts from early childhood to higher education. The Greenville business community has been supportive of the development of a successful STEM elementary school as well as a STEAM middle school. To complete the K-12 educational preparation for these types of careers, the Chamber has been very supportive of the NEXT High School, slated to open in the fall of 2016. Integral to all of these educational efforts are strong business involvement and project-based learning. The Chamber is committed to providing business linkages that give students exposure and the skills needed to succeed in the area’s technical, high-growth industries. Hank Hyatt, vice president for economic development at the Greenville Chamber says “You can’t wait until high school to expose kids to career opportunities, so we are helping foster partnerships with middle schools to bring business leaders into seventh grade classrooms.” Hyatt acknowledges that providing the number of internships or other work experiences that Greenville students need is a challenge, but he affirmed the Chamber and the business community’s commitment to building a strong educational and work pipeline for students, particularly those who are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. As John Concklin says, “The key to our success hinges on engaging the right people, giving people the space to say what isn’t working, and developing coherent strategies. To solve these problems, we have to work together.”

This post is adapted from a profile written by Beth Caldwell. You can read the full profile and to learn more about Greenville is working to build an infrastructure of opportunity for young people here.

Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity and Innovation

This post originally appeared on the NC Policy Watch blog. To learn more about building an innovation economy in North Carolina, check out a new report from the Budget and Tax Center: Choosing What Works – Let’s Build an Innovation Economy for All.

What’s one thing that all places in North Carolina have in common? From our booming metros to our small towns, from Roanoke Rapids to Cullowhee, income mobility for low-income young people in this state, and in the South in general, is far worse than in other U.S. regions. It’s surprising to learn that even in our most economically dynamic places like Charlotte and the Triangle, people who grow up in families at the low end of the income distribution are likely to stay there as adults, and only small numbers make it to the middle or top. According to data from the Equality of Opportunity Project, for young people born in the bottom quintile of the income distribution in the Triangle, 37 percent will stay there as adults, another 29 percent will only move up one quintile, and a mere 5 percent will make it to the highest quintile.

Over the past two decades, Durham has moved from a low-skilled, tobacco-reliant community to become the “City of Medicine” and a Southern center of culture and creativity. Its dynamic, knowledge-based economy is a magnet for the health, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and IT industries. Its universities and Research Triangle Park, both created and sustained through a history of public and private investment, are rich in employers and in the middle-skill jobs that pay living wages for new recruits, boasting an employment rate projected to outstrip the state and the U.S. by 2021. Yet, despite this thriving market, too few youth and young adults who grow up in Durham, particularly youth of color, are getting these good jobs, and too few have the academic and workplace skills to compete with more qualified candidates from other cities and states. Many struggle to find their way through a fragmented collection of institutions and organizations that are working to support young people but are not always well-resourced or working together. Much of this reflects Durham’s history as a tobacco and textile manufacturing center, where employment was not conditioned on education or credentialing, along with a legacy of race-based inequity in educational investment and expectations.

As David Dodson wrote in MDC’s State of the South report, “The result today is ‘two Durhams’-one prosperous and positioned to capitalize on abundant, emerging economic opportunities, and another increasingly disconnected and lacking the education, experience, and social connections needed to connect to prosperity that is close at hand geographically but painfully out of reach.” In that report, we proposed that places like Durham must build an infrastructure of opportunity, or a clear and deliberate set of pathways and supports that connect youth and young adults to postsecondary credentials and economic opportunity regardless of background. The infrastructure of opportunity is about more than just lifting up young people who are growing up in poverty-it’s about investing in opportunity for all young people so the community has a strong foundation for long-term success. The places that have better outcomes for low- and middle-income young people tend to have better outcomes for high-income young people, too (see Equality of Opportunity Project), indicating that the types of resources, systems, and investments that matter for the economic and educational success of young people are beneficial across the board.

A new partnership of private-sector, education, government, and civic leaders in Durham believes in that kind of investment. The goal of Made in Durham’s high-level, cross-sector leadership is to equip Durham youth with the credentials and experience required to gain entry-level, living wage employment in the sectors that are driving the local economy. Made in Durham seeks to support and enable an education-to-career system that addresses historic disparities. Central to its work is a deliberate strategy to advocate for the alignment of demand and supply-a strategy that will satisfy the needs of employers and young people. That requires engaging major employers as strategists, advocates, funders, and lead participants in creating career pathways and work-based learning opportunities while simultaneously investing deeply in youth engagement to give young people, especially those poorly served by existing systems, a strong voice in strategy-setting and design. Even investment in the types of commercial buildings that young adults go to work in, need to be thoroughly considered to make sure they are engaging but functional spaces to work in. Designers may consider speaking with industry experts and experinced commercial contractors to make sure components such as elevators and ramps are used to make the buildings easily accessible, for all adults.

The work began in 2013 when the Made in Durham Task Force was convened to examine what it would take to ensure that young people succeed in the labor market and that employers benefit from more home-grown talent. In Durham, a health-care innovator and then CEO of the region’s largest employer, Duke University Health System, Dr. Victor Dzau, recruited change-oriented peers to populate the task force. He was attracted to join the effort not only because of the hospital’s role as a major employer, but also because of the growing recognition in the public health field of “the social determinants of health”- the concept that weak health and social outcomes are directly related to levels of economic inequality present in a society. Addressing youth employment by connecting young people to living-wage jobs offered Durham a lever to narrow income inequality and raise health outcomes.

During 18 months of research and planning, the Task Force was staffed by MDC and supported by a Policy Working Group composed of senior executives from each of the public partners and additional representatives from the nonprofit, academic, and employment sectors to provide operational expertise and perspective to the Task Force. Both groups wrestled with how to gather data, track progress, and organize and align resources-existing and new-most effectively. At the end of the design phase, Made in Durham Task Force members incorporated a nonprofit organization with a small staff to serve as a backbone organization and convener for the partners. Members of the Policy Working Group continue to advise, and a youth network has been carefully recruited to reflect the diversity of Durham’s youth population. This network includes young people in high school, college, and alternative education programs. Two representatives will be voting members of Made in Durham’s board, and the group is planning youth-led action research projects for the coming year.

Many Task Force members have transitioned to board service, thus maintaining a leadership group composed of top business CEOs; education and public sector leaders, including the Superintendent of Durham Public Schools, President of Durham Technical Community College, Chancellor of North Carolina Central University, the Durham City Manager and Durham County Manager; and community advocates. This board is distinctive in that it is employer-led, and every member- private, public and nonprofit-is a CEO or the highest ranking member of their organization, able to make decisions and commit resources. The board’s primary objective is to foster alignment between the talent development system (education and workforce) and major employers in growth sectors of the economy. In the near term, their task is to support frontline education and workforce institutions-Durham Public Schools, Durham Technical Community College, North Carolina Central University and the Workforce Development Board-as they construct career pathways that lead to post-secondary credentials and good jobs. (The first pathway, in health and life sciences, will serve as a prototype for subsequent ones.) This year, Made in Durham partners also supported the City’s Youth Works Internship program with additional recruitment efforts for summer jobs, an important step in marshaling private sector leadership to provide substantive work-based learning for youth in sectors that are driving the Durham economy. In the longer term, the role of Made in Durham board, staff, and partners is to help shift the culture so that employers see youth investment as a part of doing business-and doing smart business, not just charitable business-in the Research Triangle.

This post includes contributions from MDC’s Abby Parcell, David Dodson, and Richard Hart.

The More You Know: Education and Mobility

If you’re in school or responsible for someone in school, this is a tough time of year. Spring break is over, but there’s still a stretch of school days left-and depending on where you or your school-goer is in the education pipeline, those days could be full of end-of-grade tests, final exams, or anxiety about what comes after graduation, whether that’s more school or beginning a new career. Many of these assessment points and new beginnings have a significant influence on long-term educational and economic outcomes. (Is this making you any less anxious? Sorry. At least the sun is out and the days are longer!)

Your starting point as a child greatly impacts your chances of getting ahead as an adult in the US, and low-income children in the South are less likely to be middle- or high-income as adults than elsewhere. Educational attainment remains a key determinant of who is employed and who is not, and who earns a good living and who does not. In the South, the median income for

  • high school graduates is $26,500
  • people with some college, $32,299
  • four-year graduates, $48,317.

Our region can’t build an economic mobility strategy that doesn’t include education, and here’s why: your chances of moving up the income ladder are significantly different, depending on your educational attainment. These data from Pew Charitable Trust make it clear:

Pew chart

Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts. Full report available here.

Only 10 percent of children born in the bottom quintile who graduate from college remain in that quintile as adults, so education does give you some upward momentum. However, even with a college degree, almost 40 percent of those who start in the bottom quintile move up just one rung. Additional certifications and gaining credentials in their respective fields (such as taking up the AZ104 exam for someone in IT) could help them climb up a few extra rungs. Without that degree, it’s even more dire: 47 percent of children born on the bottom rung remain there if they don’t earn a credential.


Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity in Greenville, SC

Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity in Greenville, SC

Last week we took State of the South on the road to one of the cities profiled in the report: Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville is a quintessential Southern city—full of friendly people, great food, and beautiful sights. All of this Southern charm was on display during our short visit.

We met with nearly 40 education, nonprofit, and business leaders in an early morning meeting at the West End Community Development Center. After a presentation of the findings and data from State of the South, we led the group through an activity that we’ve used with other community partnerships and two-year colleges, the Loss-Momentum Framework. This framework is MDC’s adaptation of a tool created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; it helps institutions and communities visualize the structure of connections and gaps along the path from K-12 to two-year and four-year degrees. The Loss-Momentum Framework guides a deeper analysis of strengths and weaknesses, and identifies which transition points in the continuum need reinforcement or incentives to move more students toward the goals of credential completion and economically rewarding employment.

In Greenville, we mapped programs and activities that are part of the city’s infrastructure of opportunity, increasing the odds that students with limited access will make it through the education-to-career pipeline. After only fifteen minutes of brainstorming, the group was able to list nearly 100 programs in place throughout their community.

Participants eagerly started analyzing the framework, noting areas where there’s a lot of energy (school readiness) and areas that need more attention (completion to employment). During the conversation, several themes rose to the top:

  1. Greenville has a lot going on, but these activities typically operate in isolation. The city should find ways to dismantle silos and connect complementary organizations and programs in meaningful ways. A recent United Way of Greenville County study found between 30-40 different community visions across organizations in Greenville. Participants concluded that there should be one shared vision with common measures and goals, created through a collaborative effort that can unite and energize the community.
  2. Participants recognized the importance of good data to drive decision making. They want to drill deeper into State of the South data to get a better understanding of what’s happening in their community, and use these data to build more effective programs and systems with positive outcomes for young people.
  3. The group felt the need to expand the meeting table. Parents and students should be a part of these conversations, offering their thoughts on how to strengthen the education-to-career pipeline. One participant said, “Let’s stop talking about people without inviting them to be a part of the solution.”

This is the beginning of a larger conversation in Greenville. We know that systems change does not happen overnight, but it has to start somewhere. Greenville has taken the first step in changing their systems and building an infrastructure of opportunity that supports everyone.

Ed. Note: This post originally appeared on MDC’s blog, The North Star.