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New Report Finds Southern States Struggle to Train for Middle-Skill Jobs


ST. LOUIS – A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows that Southern states are at risk of being left behind in this economic expansion if they don’t address a middle-skill workforce gap. “Building a Skilled Workforce for a Stronger Southern Economy,” co-authored with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the National Skills Coalition, cited barriers that prevent people from working, training for middle-skill jobs or advancing their careers prevalent among Southern states.

“To create a skilled and thriving Southern economy, state leaders must create an inclusive workforce,” write the report’s authors. “If Southern states are going to close their skill gaps, they must provide opportunities for all adults – including people of color – to access high-quality education and training. More than four in 10 Southerners are people of color. And people of color will make up the majority of the U.S. population by 2044.”

The Southern economy – once built on low-skill industries – must now compete in an economy where the majority of job openings require education and training beyond high school. Those training opportunities are limited for many Southerners, who face obstacles such as burdensome transportation and child care costs, high incarceration rates, persistent poverty, and lack of infrastructure in rural areas.

“Building a Skilled Workforce for a Stronger Southern Economy” offers a concrete roadmap for state policymakers to strengthen the economy by:

  • Using workforce development strategies, such as sector partnerships with industries like biotech and work-based learning, as economic development tools capable of meeting industry needs.
  • Investing in communities to implement high-quality workforce development strategies at the local level.
  • Establishing job-driven financial aid programs that are available to a wide range of students.
  • Forming middle-skill career pathways that include comprehensive supportive services to help ensure program completion.
  • Creating state data systems that provide accountability on how training programs are helping residents with diverse needs get skilled jobs.