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Opinion: Employment should stay a top concern

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As a community, we recognize the severity of the impact of COVID-19. However, we are thankful that Springfield has always been a community that comes together to support the needs of those who call the Springfield area home.

With the private, public and social sectors all impacted, now more than ever before, we need to give more of our time, talents and treasures. Everyone can participate because everyone has something to give. Prosper Springfield is optimistic with all of the positives that can come from a community that rallies together. Please know that every circumstance can be positively impacted; we may just need to be more creative and be willing to try different ways to help others.

We know that prior to COVID-19, the Springfield area had over 38,000 individuals who work and earn an income that does not meet basic cost of living expenses. This working condition is described as underemployment. An individual experiences underemployment when the hourly wage or salary they earn does not cover their basic needs.

One way to address the current situation is to take advantage of the Fast Track workforce incentive grant by encouraging adults to finish college, earn a certificate or earn an industry-recognized credential in areas designated as high need. Ozarks Technical Community College and Missouri State University have online programs that may qualify for Fast Track funds.

The Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development website has information for students, educational partners and community partners to understand the benefits of Fast Track.

We also know that prior to COVID-19, several local employers were making a difference in the Springfield area through the Missouri One Start customized training fund. According to Matt Morrow, president of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the money is available to train or retrain a company’s workforce. Missouri One Start provides a tailored workforce strategy to address unique business needs. There is no cost for eligible businesses.

The program customizes services that range from pre-employment screening and recruitment to designing job-specific training. More information is at MissouriOneStart.com. The funds are available on a limited basis for employers who are creating new jobs with wages above the area’s average pay. The additional training may contribute to a trade-specific certification or degree.

Custom Powder Systems LLC, 3M Co., Jack Henry & Associates Inc., Kraft Heinz Co., Southern Missouri Containers Inc. and several SRC Holdings Corp. subsidiaries are among over a dozen companies participating locally.

Employers are key to the success of postsecondary attainment because they have employees with “work-going” ethics (for the most part). Also, if employers identified the number of employees who do not have a trade certificate or degree, employers could adjust benefit packages to help those employers who have a desire to increase postsecondary attainment. We know that COVID-19, may change the outcomes with these companies. However, the chamber’s Morrow suggests an additional resources for businesses: the Shared Work program through the Missouri Department of Labor. It’s an unemployment compensation program as an alternative to layoffs. If a company is faced with a reduction in available work, the program allows an employer to divide the available work among a specified group of affected employees instead of a layoff.

Chamber officials have created this resource for additional options for employers: SpringfieldChamber.com/coronavirus.

Stay safe and healthy Springfield – this too will past.

Francine Pratt is director of Prosper Springfield, a poverty reduction initiative led by Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks. She can be reached at fpratt@cpozarks.org.

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