Fill positions with candidates from our collective backyard

Any business leader will tell you that talent is the key ingredient for a healthy business and for growth. At the same time, many in our area will say that great talent is extremely hard to find.

Educational institutions work to produce the skilled workers businesses need, and workforce organizations pour resources into the issue, seeking to bridge the talent gaps. Some businesses offer on-the-job training and other support to develop their workforce. And yet the disconnect persists. As of this writing, there are roughly 20,000 unfilled jobs in Summit County. What gives?

When presented with the talent quandary, many say that we need to attract more young talent from other communities. The reality is that talent attraction will barely scratch the surface. Each year, about 550 adults with a college degree move to Akron for a job. If we were to double that number — an extraordinary feat, requiring significant resources — we’d address just 1,100 of the 20,000 job openings. There would still be roughly 19,000 open jobs.

New research coming out from the Elevate Greater Akron initiative suggests that there is a solution that is much better than talent attraction — seeing with new eyes the talent pool that already exists in the region. There are roughly 13,000 people in Summit County looking for a job, of whom 6,500 have a four-year degree. Hiring underemployed and unemployed people in our midst is an economic win for the region on multiple fronts. It adds talent capacity to the hiring business, it uplifts the economic prospects of the employee, it revitalizes neighborhoods with people who are better able to participate in community life and it creates a more robust economy all around.

Businesses have much to gain by hiring local diverse talent. It is a path to growth. Studies show that more diverse companies have higher levels of innovation and productivity. They have lower levels of costly turnover. And they build economic strength right here, within the Greater Akron community.

Work is under way to improve the supply side of the equation — identifying these qualified job seekers and making sure they know of opportunities and have key skills needed to make a start.

But what can businesses do to help their own cause on the demand side? For starters, businesses can examine the experience and educational requirements they attach to their posted positions. Some of these can be arbitrary, as evidenced by the fact that criteria are often relaxed when the labor market is tight. Businesses can also look beyond their own social and professional networks when hiring, because most networks do not reflect diversity and will not lead to a more diverse workforce.

Today’s untapped talent is diverse, and Akron’s future depends upon its ability to harness that talent. People of color are overrepresented in our unemployed and underemployed populations. As our population parallels the national population, becoming more diverse each year, it serves us to focus on better connecting diverse talent to opportunity.

Christine Amer Mayer is president of GAR Foundation, which awards grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Akron in the areas of education, economic and workforce development, arts and culture, basic needs, and nonprofit sector leadership.