September is Workforce Development Month, and never in recent memory have investments in our state’s workforce been more important.

The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on jobs and employment in Minnesota.

Our state’s unemployment rate as of July is at 7.7 percent, down more than two percentage points from May, but still more than twice what it was in July 2019, when it was 3.2 percent.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), and our workforce development partners throughout the state, are working to connect unemployed or underemployed Minnesotans during the pandemic with in-demand jobs at employers who are hiring now.

This is the essential work of workforce development – preparing Minnesotans to step into a family-sustaining work that’s not just a job, but a career.

As we continue to navigate the new normal of living with COVID-19 while slowing its spread, this work is more important than ever.

Last year, we set forth strategic objectives to modernize our offerings, take a new approach to tackling disparities and sharpen our focus on meeting the needs of employers.

We are continuing to make progress toward those goals – and adding to them our overarching objective of working together to rebuild a more equitable Minnesota.

Since the start of the pandemic induced economic crisis, DEED has examined employment impacts, including impacts by race and ethnicity.

The numbers paint a stark picture.

More than half of all black Minnesotans in the labor force have applied for unemployment benefits since March, and the black unemployment rate in Minnesota currently stands at 15.3 percent, nearly 2.5 times the rate for white, non-Hispanic Minnesotans.

Since March, DEED has engaged in ongoing outreach to black, Indigenous and people of color to ensure all Minnesotans are aware of our job seeker resources for those looking for work.

DEED staff and our workforce partners are providing focused assistance across communities hit hard by the pandemic and offering help in languages other than English to let people know about virtual job search and career training resources.

In the coming months, we will continue to focus on and refine our efforts to help Minnesotans from communities impacted most greatly by the economic impacts of the pandemic.

As part of our outreach strategy, I’ve started on an economic recovery listening tour that will take me to each region of Minnesota.

Recently, I heard from workforce development staff, community partners and others in Duluth on the growing need to do more to reach Minnesotans who need our services most, including taking more aggressive steps to break down digital access barriers that keep Minnesotans from finding or getting work now.

Another message I heard loud and clear was the need to connect career seekers with jobs in demand.

DEED will continue to share more about critical workforce development efforts during September.

Stay tuned for more updates from DEED and our workforce partners throughout the month.

– Steve Grove serves as commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development