Editor’s Note: The following is a guest editorial written by Joe Sammons, executive director of Challenge Workforce Solutions.

To submit a guest column to the Voice, email msmith@ithacavoice.com.

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Joe Sammons headshot
Joe Sammons, executive director of Challenge Workforce Solutions.

I think the picture of low unemployment in Tompkins County is a bit more complex than it appears at first blush (“Tompkins businesses struggle to find employees because of low unemployment,” 12/6/15), but it’s also clear that there are some very real and achievable solutions before us.

We don’t need to bring in workers from outside our community at all, really: we have a ready, willing and eager workforce right here in Tompkins County. While it is true that the unemployment rate is low overall, it is also true that different parts of our community have vastly different experiences accessing the workforce. Unemployment may be less than 4% overall, but for people of color, it is 9.5%. For those with a disability, the unemployment rate is 85%.

We need good jobs with good pay – we need training that emphasizes the so-called “soft” skills that are key to adapting to a quickly changing environment, and we need the supports that are so critical to success in the workforce, including transportation, housing and supportive services.

Our agency, Challenge Workforce Solutions, works hard to provide people in our community with disabilities and other barriers with the training and support they need to be successful. Our social enterprises, such as the Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub, Digital Imaging, Contract Staffing and others provide direct employment opportunities in an integrated, supportive environment. We also work with about 200 businesses in the community to help them meet their employment needs.

We do this work every day, as we’ve done for many years.  But we are strongest when we partner with area businesses, schools, human services and health care partners, and community organizations who know better than any of us the unique needs of our neighborhoods and the people living here.

So while the issue of unemployment is more complex than it might seem, I feel very encouraged that we don’t have to look far to find the solution.  It’s right here, and we should (pardon the pun) get to work.

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Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.