16,000 Memphis jobs:

Edmund Ford Jr., Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 2/23/2017, 10:15 a.m.
How do we fill them?
Edmund Ford Jr.

In our beloved City, we have challenges that we face. Several of these challenges are interwoven around poverty, unemployment and crime. The 2016 Update of the Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet, produced by Dr. Elena Delavega of the University of Memphis, states that the poverty rate in the city is 26.1 percent. For African Americans, that percentage rises to 30.1 percent.

Overall, the data reports that Memphis is the second poorest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the nation and has the highest child poverty rate. Couple that with 35,000 unemployed Memphians and a high crime rate, it is time to find specific solutions. One of those solutions is to increase our local workforce, providing those with the desire and the will to work the necessary tools to make that a reality.

According to the January 4 press release by The Conference Board, there was a reported 16,000 unfilled jobs in Memphis. When analyzing the labor supply and demand, much of the statistical data eliminates some of the myths regarding the lack of jobs and the low wages.

Many of the 16,000 jobs available fall into six categories: Management and Business/Financial, Professional and Related, Service, Sales and Office, Construction and Maintenance, and Production and Transportation. Additionally, the majority of these jobs offer a living wage or better, ranging from $11.65 to $39.68/hr.

The total payroll available if each job was filled is over $633 million. This payroll could lead to lower unemployment and poverty rates, less crime and more property taxes to pay for our City services and amenities.

After disaggregating this data, it is important to ask relevant questions to find relevant solutions to this unique problem.

What efforts are being made to ensure individuals are job-ready and employable?

Are these 16,000 jobs being adequately advertised to connect prospective employees to a future job or career?

What are the drawbacks that employers experience that prevent them from hiring those who have the genuine will to work?

After attending the Who’s Hiring Memphis career fair on January 17 at the Esplanade in Cordova, these questions were asked to learn more about the problem from those who are offering jobs and those who are trying to acquire them. In attendance were over 40 businesses and hundreds of people who aspired employment.

After two hours of conversation, many shared their experiences and three primary obstacles that employers faced to hire people and attendees faced to be hired. The three drawbacks for future employment were the lack of transportation, lack of training and past criminal records of applicants.

These three disadvantages for those who want to work demand short and long term solutions. Notwithstanding the current issues that our transportation system faces internally, MATA has been widely criticized by riders and communities for its lack of access and timely routes. MATA has approximately 40,000 riders daily, many of them people going to work to take care of their families. Memphis has almost the same land mass size as New York City, but lacks the density needed for other means of transportation. It is time to execute a comprehensive plan to improve MATA so that the workforce that rides our buses will not have to worry about being late for work and possibly being terminated.

Secondly, it should be ascertained that the education and training provided locally matches the job requirements for the unfilled positions. Are the local systems (SCS, vocational, and postsecondary) providing future and current graduates the appropriate skill sets necessary to qualify for employment?

There is a need for communication on both sides to identify and define the skill sets needed to be part of today’s workforce. It would be a disservice to teach obsolete skills in our institutions, ill-preparing a ready labor force. Simultaneously, it is significant to classify what the recommended skills are so that school curricula match those skills.

Lastly, there are some who may have the transportation and training required to attain employment; however, due to past criminal records, the transportation and training requirements are deemed irrelevant. Although they have paid their debts to society, the label still exists when they are required to admit it on their job application. I applaud efforts in the Tennessee General Assembly in reducing expungement fees and allowing non-violent offenders an opportunity to re-enter the workforce.

Together, we can solve these problems while strengthening our workforce and our City.

(Edmund Ford Jr. represents District 6 on the Memphis City Council.)