Partner Perspectives


Future of Smart Work cover image

April 8th, 2024

Project Leads Mandy Bishop

Smart Columbus, the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio and the United Way of Central Ohio, in partnership with The Ohio State University’s Ohio Education Research Center, today introduced six recommendations for stimulating job growth in smart city-related industries in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The study, Fast Forward: The Future of Smart Work in Central Ohio, finds that technology disruptions inspired by the smart city movement such as automation will likely accelerate even more quickly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to close skill gaps and deliver education and credentials for Central Ohio workers will take on a new urgency.

“We commissioned this study in 2019 knowing that emerging technology had the potential to cause disruption to our regional workforce, not yet knowing an even greater workforce challenge was yet to come,” said Mayor Andrew J. Ginther. “The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired opportunities for innovation and advancement through automated goods delivery, remote learning, and more, but it has also laid bare inequities in access to connectivity and education. We must act now and engage residents in every stage of their careers in order to emerge from this crisis stronger and more prepared for continued change.”

“Despite the fact that nearly three-quarters of the workforce was deemed ‘critical’ during the early days of the pandemic, over 1.3 million Ohio workers still lost their jobs between March and May 2020.” said Lisa Patt-McDaniel, President and CEO of the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio. “This study and the resulting recommendations show how we can do more protect and prepare the Central Ohio workforce by grappling with difficult issues central to K-12 education and complexities that arise when adults lack basic skills or have significant barriers to education.”

Based on the research, the sponsors of this study recommend the Central Ohio community pursue the following recommendations:

  1. Respond in real time: Establish the deliberate use of education, workforce, and employment data to analyze in close-to-real-time what is happening in the economy so that the workforce system can quickly and proactively help job seekers understand what skills are needed, and help businesses know what skill sets are available in the region.
  2. Train for the future: Establish a continuous learning system that educates and trains for future career opportunities.
  3. Intervene early: Incorporate work and career exploration in curriculum as early as middle school and continuing through high school in all school districts in Franklin County. Provide exposure to high-demand occupations and key business sectors in Central Ohio through required work experience and internships. Partner with employers to provide guidance and assistance in making the work experiences and internships meaningful.
  4. Accelerate access to in-demand occupations: Improve access to employer-identified short-term certifications and credentials that more quickly get job seekers into in-demand occupations. In addition, re-engineer credentials and post-secondary degrees to be competency-based, meaning that learning is not based on a prescribed number of hours for a course, but rather a demonstrated knowledge of skills, allowing the learner to progress at her or his own pace.
  5. Establish “earn as you learn” opportunities and connect workers to them: Prioritize learning and skill acquisition with work for the entry- to mid-level workforce through the establishment of apprenticeships and other earn-as-you-learn opportunities by partnering with career technical education and the community college.
  6. Support workers through to successful, quality jobs: Further solidify the workforce system through the Workforce Development Board’s Workforce Advisory Council to better coordinate job seekers through preparation for work and wrap-around services necessary to support job seekers through training and education.

“The recommendations outlined in this study provide Columbus with a strong opportunity to more efficiently meet the workforce needs of our residents and business community as we contend with the rapid challenges of technology, innovation and the COVID-19 pandemic on our economy,” said Columbus City Councilmember Shayla Favor. “When we are able to prioritize education, skills training, and access to opportunity, we will create an ecosystem in which some of the most vulnerable members of our community can thrive.”

"We must do everything we can to accelerate initiatives that improve student success today and for future generations," said Lisa Courtice, President and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio. "COVID-19 has shined a light on something many of us already knew. There is great inequality in our community, and that gap continues to widen. If we don't make student success a priority, then we will feel the ripple effects of the pandemic for years to come."

“The Future of Smart Work is underway in central Ohio, where the network of education, workforce and business professionals are working hard to broaden participation in the economy of tomorrow. Our systematic review of the workforce trends highlights new opportunities and challenges for this growing and dynamic region,” said Josh Hawley, Professor and Director of the Ohio Education Research Center.

The study and an accompanying executive summary are available on the Smart Columbus Playbook and was funded through the Smart Cities Challenge grant awarded to the City of Columbus by the Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, the United Way of Central Ohio, and the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio.


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