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by Donald Allen, Editor-in-Chief, The Independent Business News Network
Minneapolis, MN (IBNN/Editorial Opinion/January 1, 2013)…On Tuesday, February 28, 2012, I sat in on a meeting with Mark Phillips, the commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), Terrell Towers, Manager of the Workforce Center on Plymouth Avenue, Robin Sternberg and Micah Hines, who both work in some capacity for Minnesota governor Mark Dayton. The meeting held at the Urban Research Outreach/Engagement Center (UROC) was to meet with community members about proposed plans to level the current workforce center on Plymouth Avenue North and look for a location for another location to open up a new, fancy office.
It’s rolling up on another year since this poorly attending meeting and there’s been many new developments with little to no successful outcomes as of yet.
The reason this has become problematic for me, and the “eight community members” that attended was because no pre-planning, marketing, advertising or community engagement was rallied by the powerful entities that sat on the panel. If there had been, it would have assure a solid representation of community members who might use the workforce center – and who might have added very valuable input on the proposed move.
This has commonly become the juggernaut for state, city and county agencies wanting to reach out to residents in the areas in which they serve: Not having a plan of engagement. I mean really, who checks out the city or state websites for news and information?
The north Minneapolis Workforce Center located at 1200 Plymouth Avenue North has been at that location since 1980. The building use to be a roller rink, (this was back when people had jobs and could afford to go roller-skating). In 2011 the north Minneapolis Workforce Center served some 11, 244 people – mostly Blacks – but still does not have the capacity to track hiring success, nor do they work with businesses in a placement program capacity. This is a problem entwined with more duplication of failures across the board.
DEED commissioner Mark Phillips said, “I been over here (north Minneapolis) a few times. I would gather that I’m the only DEED commissioners that have come to north Minneapolis in years.” Phillips comments were afield of the conversation going on – but clearly, he positioned himself as the big dog for this meeting. Commissioner Phillips take on OIC’s or training programs was interesting. He suggested people to take “accredited education courses” that would lead to jobs. If this is the case, why keep funding training programs that some participants don’t see jobs or have to continue their education by attend a 2-4 year college to become accredited?
Another highlight of the meeting was when Terrell Towers, Manager of the Workforce Center on Plymouth Avenue said, “We don’t have the capacity to connect with businesses to get actual jobs for Workforce program participants.” The question then becomes, “What do you do, and how is it you operate a workforce enter without jobs?” This is most puzzling to say the least.
Is the word “workforce” an oxymoron?
Despite the many contradictions by Phillips and his panel, it seemed that “blind-guidance” was in play and the panel wanted some kind of input from the eight community members. The irony of the situation: the Workforce Center has a vast database of all it’s current and past clients to include email contacts, cell phone numbers and home addresses – but not one communication was sent out to any of the 11,000+ clients for this important meeting.
Part II: Solving the Riddle of Community Outreach: Using what never works again and again is a waste of valuable assets.