You’ve heard the questions from your manufacturing colleagues:
Through a recent seminar at The City Club of Cleveland, I learned that there are eight simple reasons why you’re struggling with your workforce. These “social determinants of work” are plaguing most cities and towns and must be addressed. When we’re talking about millions of Americans still on the sidelines of our economy, this isn’t about individuals – this is about our systems.
Originally popularized by America Works partner National Fund for Workforce Solutions, social determinants of work are defined as:
Opportunities that surround a given job and affect a worker’s ability to succeed, such as the ability to live close to the workplace, reliable and affordable transportation, dependable family care, and workplace benefits like healthcare and paid leave. These opportunities support employment stability and worker well-being and impact workforce equity.
Just like you can’t blame a fish for dying because of polluted groundwater, you can’t blame American workers for struggling in the face of multiple systemic challenges.
Sticking with that metaphor, how would you keep the fish in a polluted lake alive? You wouldn’t worry about the individual fish – instead, you would work to improve the quality of the groundwater (say, by eliminating pollution, adding sources of clean water, improving drainage and water flow, etc.).
By the same token, how should we help American workers obtain, keep and progress in their manufacturing jobs? By not just helping individuals, but by reinventing the systems that are holding them back.
The United Way of Cleveland created this simple graphic to capture the eight main social determinants of work:
Source: United Way of Cleveland
These factors are all outside of your employee’s control but because they have significant individual consequences, they are affecting your company and our American manufacturing industry. Let’s dive into them quickly:
I’m sure we could find more systemic barriers in our work environments. In my own experience, developing social capital – having a network of friends and colleagues – can be a huge challenge to workers from poor communities getting access to great jobs. And let’s not forget recent immigrants and others who may face language barriers when applying to, interviewing for and advancing in manufacturing jobs. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
While these challenges seem daunting, there is good news as well. From my experience interacting with and studying low-income workers, I’m happy to tell you that the perception that “people just don’t want to work” simply isn’t true.
What is true is that people face these eight significant barriers (and who knows how many more) to work. Also true: These social determinants of work can’t be addressed solely through offering higher wages. Put simply, even a generous raise of $3 per hour, which translates to $6,000 per year, doesn’t help that worker overcome all of the challenges listed above.
So, once again, I continue to encourage communities to consider Manufacturing Sector Partnerships to bring all of the relevant stakeholders and important parties to the table to combat these issues together.
I truly believe that addressing the social determinants of work, together, is how we will revitalize American manufacturing – and our communities.