Fifth Third Bank recently hosted a conversation about workforce development in Austin at the Kehrein Center for the Arts and what can be done to increase Black wealth.
The goal of the discussion was to engage stakeholders from the Austin community to explore what workforce development looks like, the role it plays in community economic investment and how it impacts Black generational wealth, said Brittany Hughes, assistant vice president of Fifth Third Bank.
“Even before the pandemic, low-wage workers were already in a vulnerable spot, and this was exasperated by COVID 19,” Hughes said. “Many people needed training and development for the work that they were doing.”
During the event, a variety of panelists spoke about what they believe are the greatest needs of Austin residents when it comes to workforce development.
“One of the biggest challenges that I see in trying to recruit, acquire and retain key talent in Austin is that the skill set is not there,” said Layla Bitoy, owner of Bitoy’s Sweet Treats, speaking about her business’ shift to a more digital operation.
Post COVID, 80% of Bitoy’s sales have been done through digital commerce.
“My office manager needs to be able to look at reports and intuitively decide what we’re doing, when we do it, what impact we need to make because that customer is not standing right directly in front of us,” Bitoy said.
“I don’t see that skill set very easily accessible for me to ramp and scale my business in Austin … I’m spending more time to help upskill.”
Another need expressed was for investment in Austin so that residents don’t have to leave the community to build their skills and find opportunities.
“Transformation needs transformational investment,” said Bradly Johnson, director of external affairs at BUILD Chicago.
“Let’s look at how we can create apprenticeships in the community, let’s look at how we can education systems to [create] pipelines to careers … Fifth Third, you’ll be building your own customer base by just educating, starting with the grade schools and on through.”
The event ended with Hughes speaking of the Kehrein Center being a testament of financial institutions, legislation and school systems coming together to support community investments.
“We’re [Fifth Third] taking nuggets from this conversation, and we’ll bring that back, but we hope that there’s more than one KCA, more than one BUILD investment, we want more than one Bitoy’s Sweet Treats and so forth … and I believe we can do so with the information you’ve shared today and by being more compassionate,” Hughes said.