Fairfield County Business Collaborative for Education Equity Unveils a Path Towards Economic Prosperity

Oct 31, 2023

For those who weren’t able to join us at the Building Tomorrow’s Workforce event, view the event recording below:

Photos from the event:

NORWALK, CT (Oct. 26, 2023) – Addressing systemic barriers to education and career development would unleash opportunities for thousands of Fairfield County students while also reaping significant economic benefits for the entire county, a new study from the Fairfield County Business Collaborative for Education Equity (BCEE) has found.

Local businesses and other key stakeholders were invited to learn more about the study, Building Tomorrow’s Workforce: Equitable Education and Career Pathways for Opportunity Youth in Fairfield County, at a presentation held yesterday at FactSet Research Systems, Inc.

At the event, researchers explained how a combination of economic, health, housing and educational inequities have created significant barriers to promising careers for many Fairfield County students, a disproportionate number of whom are students of color living in more economically challenged zip codes within the county.

They also described a proactive approach to addressing these disparities with key emphasis on better preparing students for an estimated 48,000 new entry-level roles — more than 14,000 of which will likely remain out of reach for disadvantaged students without aggressive interventions and programming.

“Getting this right within Fairfield County alone could lift almost 9,600 Opportunity Youth out of poverty, save nearly $3 billion in taxpayer dollars and reduce social costs by almost $9 billion over the course of Opportunity Youth’s lives,” said Mendi Blue Paca, president and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. “Beyond that, it would boost economic productivity by allowing employers to fill previously unfilled roles.”

Specific recommendations include getting Opportunity Youth — individuals aged 16 – 24 who are disconnected from school and work — on more promising livable-wage career tracks, providing clearer paths to advancement and enabling further training and industry credentialing.

The study primarily focuses on Norwalk and surrounding Fairfield County areas, however its findings have broader implications for the many communities nationwide grappling with similar challenges. BCEE’s proposal for a more integrated and collaborative strategy could serve as a model for achieving significant economic benefits.

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation played a key role in establishing BCEE in 2020 as a local impact and funding collaborative that works to reduce and eliminate educational disparities among Fairfield County’s most vulnerable pre-K through 12+ students, parents and guardians, as well as teachers and staff. To date, BCEE has awarded $800,000 in grants. BCEE members also provide employee volunteerism, expertise and other resources to support the cause.

The focus of the new comprehensive study on creating better conditions for students to pursue postsecondary education and employment emanated from feedback from local nonprofits that were asked how BCEE could extend support beyond providing traditional grants.

“It was really that dialogue with nonprofits that are on the front lines, that created an ah-ha moment that it was essential to really dig into the root causes of these longstanding systemic issues that have not only held back generations of students, but in many ways the entire community as well,” said Randi Burlew, PhD, director of research and equity at Philliber Research & Evaluation, who partnered with the BCEE to develop the study.

The study outlines concrete steps to achieve these objectives, focusing on placing Opportunity Youth job seekers into livable-wage career tracks, providing upward progression and enabling further training and industry credentialing.

“The release of this study represents a significant milestone in the pursuit of educational equity and economic prosperity for Fairfield County,” said Bill Tommins, president, Bank of America Southern Connecticut. “We now have a blueprint for success. Moving forward, the key will be businesses and community members joining forces to put these recommendations into action. If we can do that, we can strengthen the local economy for generations to come.”

The Business Collaborative’s members include: Bank of America, First County Bank, Gallatin Point Capital, Henkel, Lapine Associates, Pitney Bowes, Synchrony, The Ashforth Company, The Tudor Foundation, Inc., Xerox, FactSet Charitable Foundation, Littlejohn & Co. and McKinsey & Company, who also served as a research partner on this project.

Please visit the Business Collaborative’s website to learn more about the Fairfield County Business Collaborative for Education Equity, the study’s findings and how to become a member. Local businesses of all sizes are encouraged to join.