Who are jobs for?

In an opinion piece that the Post-Standard printed on May 13, Mitchell Patterson predicted that in the next few years, companies in and around Syracuse will be hiring for tens of thousands of jobs. This, he says, is a problem:

Having too many jobs sounds like a good problem to have. But not having the people – or the people with the right skills – to fill them is holding us back.

Who’s this “us,” and who’s a part of the “we” that worries elsewhere in the piece about how “we have a job glut,” and “we can’t even fill the current surplus of jobs that exist.”

That “us” certainly doesn’t include the 17,000 people who are looking for work right now. If it did, then several thousand new jobs would not be a problem, but an opportunity to improve several thousand people’s lives. When you include those people in the “us” that has a stake in Syracuse’s future, the problem instead becomes turning that opportunity into a reality for the people with the direst need.

To tackle that problem, Syracuse needs relevant educational opportunities for adult learners, and it needs useful transportation options for people who don’t own a car.

So many of these new jobs are going to require some kind of diploma, and that’s a barrier for a lot of people who are looking for work. Public educational institutions like OCC and BOCES serve adults who need to get new training so that they can earn those diplomas. These schools already do a lot of this good work, and they could do even more with larger staffs and more locations.

Those educational opportunities are no use, though, if people can’t reach them. It’s too difficult to take a class at OCC if you have to get there on the bus. It can be even more difficult to keep a job when day in and day out you’re relying on this bus system to get you to work on time. Organizations like Providence Services can help, but what the City really needs is to renew its commitment to public transportation as a tool of individual empowerment. The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council’s SMART1 recommendations will make it possible for more people to get to OCC and to more of the jobs available in the community. Centro needs support and pressure to act on those recommendations, and the SMTC needs to finish the job it started by planning all the other service improvements suggested in the Syracuse Transit System Analysis.

17,000 people are out looking for work. That’s more people than live in all of Geddes. They have to be a part of the conversation when we’re talking about the future of work in Syracuse. When they’re included, the the community’s obvious overriding imperative is to make sure that they benefit from these changes that are coming, these new jobs that will open up. Once we’ve taken care of that basic business, then let’s talk about whether or not there are too many jobs and not enough workers in this community.