This past December, I had the honor of speaking to a room of stakeholders and advocates in Baltimore’s workforce ecosystem, and presenting recommendations to improve the economic stability of the region. This opportunity was the result of United Way of Central Maryland’s Workforce Leadership Academy, a year-long fellowship for which I was selected in early 2023. I was proud to represent MVLS in the Academy, and now that the program has ended we wanted to share a reflection on this unique experience.
The December presentation, made by myself and four other fellows, was the culmination of our year of deep discussion and reflection on our experience working with job seekers in the greater Baltimore area. Twenty fellows were selected from a variety of fields, all working in the Baltimore region and all with a perspective on the struggles and successes of our area’s workforce system. The Academy is a nation-wide program presented by the Aspen Institute, and United Way was selected to administer Baltimore’s local cohort. United Way’s vast institutional knowledge, array of connections, and passion for the Baltimore region made them a wonderful host organization.
Our convenings throughout 2023 featured guest speakers, overnight retreats, and stimulating discussions. One of the recurring themes of our conversations was how, despite continued efforts to increase access to supportive programs and job training, practitioners are always surprised by how many people simply do not know about what is available to them. This lack of awareness is pronounced in groups that many fellows work to support – vulnerable populations like formerly incarcerated people and youth in unstable living conditions.
United Way gave us an opportunity at the end of our fellowship to present recommendations to funders, elected officials, and other stakeholders who have a passion for improving Baltimore’s economic prospects. The fellows were divided into four groups, but ultimately our presentations focused on smaller parts of a larger idea, which was to further centralize the workforce development system in the region. My group’s focus was on the successes of initiatives like One Baltimore for Jobs and the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development’s Vision for a Coordinated Workforce System. We identified what these kinds of projects did well, and what gaps still remain. We received a lot of positive feedback and many funders indicated interest in pursuing the ideas presented.
As a result of this unique opportunity to convene with experts in workforce development, I got to know many incredible people who are working to make the Baltimore region a better place to live and work. The fellows have continued to stay in touch, and Aspen Institute is hosting follow-up conversations throughout the year. I hope that the strong connections we made during the Academy can foster real change through seeing some of our ideas enacted. I am thankful to MVLS and our board for their support throughout my tenure as a fellow in this program.