One great sign of early success for the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center is the engagement and active presence of more than a dozen employers.
Augsburg College, Fairview Health Services, Hennepin County Medical Center, Medtronic, Metro Transit, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, and People's Center Health Services are among the employers who have committed to a regular presence at the Center.
CombaTting Employment Disparities
Unemployment is a serious problem in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood.
Statistics from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development indicate unemployment is sitting at 3.7% across the state of Minnesota, but has been nearly 18% in Cedar Riverside. The Opportunity Center works to address this disparity by partnering with local employers able to offer the entry-level employment many residents need.
Employers’ motivations for engagement at the Opportunity Center vary, but all include a commitment to fostering pathways to employment.
“Fairview believes we should invest in the community we serve and our workforce should represent the communities we serve,” noted Regina Pekarek, a Workforce Development Consultant for Fairview Health Services. To date, Fairview has hired eight candidates from the Opportunity Center.
Pekarek takes a personal approach to her work at the Opportunity Center, seeking first to build relationships. “I spend time getting to know clients, and have found that a commitment to first establishing a relationship with the people I meet at the Opportunity Center is the best way to learn about their lives and strengths,” she explained. “Once we get to know each other, the process of exploring employment at Fairview becomes much more genuine. Mutual trust is really the key.”
Meeting the Growing Employment Demand
Good business sense also encourages partner engagement and hiring at the Opportunity Center. Pekarek is one of the employer partners that find convenience to be fundamental to the success of the Opportunity Center. Fairview especially appreciates that the employment center is located mere blocks Fairview’s largest hospital, providing a streamlined process for filling the 600-plus job openings Fairview is looking to hire for weekly.
Employers have found committed job seekers at the Opportunity Center. “They are ready to work and they possess the values of loyalty and commitment; they are committed to doing a job well, and they have an enthusiasm to gain employment,” noted Pekarek. EMERGE Community Development facilitates job seeker preparedness by ensuring that by the time the employers arrive on-site, applicants are prepared.
“Emerge has a strong vetting process where they meet with residents prior to employer interview dates and help residents look over their applications, prepare residents to communicate with employers, and even help with employer onboarding processes,” Pekarek explained.
Diversifying the Workforce
The Cedar Riverside residents and others who come to the Opportunity Center provide partner employers access to a diverse pool of applicants. Pekarek noted that this diversity offers a way for public and private organizations to ensure a workforce that reflects the larger community. “The population is shifting, and we can learn from this community and they can learn from us,” Pekarek noted.
Employers are hopeful that hiring from local communities will provide life-long employees and will provide employees with full careers. “Many of the residents of Cedar Riverside want to live and work in their neighborhood,” said Pekarek. “This provides local employers the opportunity to hire within the communities they serve.”
Fairview has discussed the option of utilizing customized training where individuals would be trained at the Opportunity Center and placed directly into entry-level positions with Fairview in the future.
Recruiting Employers, Expanding the Partnership
Fairview is eager to spread the word and bring more employers to recruit at the Center.
“News of the Opportunity Center will spread by getting the word out through success stories and through opening doors for other employers to come and observe the inner workings of the Center,” commented Pekarek.
There will likely by more opportunities for the Center’s growth once good data about hiring and job retention is available.
Current partner employers do indeed span several sectors. Public, private, medical, transportation, and education employers have all recognized the benefit this partnership could provide to their organizations, the residents of Cedar Riverside, and the communities that they serve.
“There is a lot of room for growth and expansion,” explained Pekarek. “This partnership could be extended to public service, hospitality, food service, information technology, manufacturing, and technical careers.”