Working Together to Close Employment Gaps

The League of Minnesota Cities is a partner with People of Color Careers. Here, League Executive Director Dave Unmacht sits down with Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, CEO or the Rae Mackenzie Group and the founder of the People of Color Career Fair, to talk about closing the employment gap for people of color.

Sharon: Hey, everybody! It’s Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, CEO or the Rae Mackenzie Group and the founder of the People of Color Career Fair. And I am so excited to be here today with David Unmacht, he is the executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities. How are you, Dave?

Dave: Great, Sharon, thanks for being here.

Sharon: I am so excited to have you here with us today I’m excited to be in your office we have completely taken it over because we want to have an awesome conversation with you about the League of Minnesota Cities and how we are working together to make sure we’re closing that unemployment and underemployment gap. In fact, we know that the unemployment rate among people of color is two-four times that, particularly among African Americans and Latinos, as compared to their white counterparts in this state. I mean, what is going on? What do you think is the challenge here, and what the problem is?

Dave: I think for cities, if I can narrow it down for us, is awareness of what we do. Awareness of what we do, awareness that we have good jobs available, and awareness that we care to diversify our workforce. The jobs are great, the work is good, and if we can let people know of what these positions are I think we’re going to be successful in diversifying our workforce and we’re going to reduce and minimize that percentage that you talked about.

Sharon: As professionals are thinking about where they want to land their next career, and they just maybe never thought about a career in municipal government, in public service, Why should they think about a career in government?

Dave: Because there’s so much we do. We do public works, we can snow plow, and drive a truck. We can do law enforcement, we can be firefighters, we can be emergency management technicians, we can be programmers for information technology, we can be administrators, we can be finance experts. I want people of color to know that there’s great jobs there’s a lot of opportunities, and it’s good people, it’s good work. You feel good about what you do because we’re passionate about helping citizens in our communities. And it’s not only a good professional job, but you really feel good about who you are as an individual when you work for municipal government.

Sharon: I also heard the pay’s not bad …

Dave: The benefits are just as good!

Sharon: So tell me about those!

Dave: The benefits are great. There’s two things. One, of course we have Social Security, like all jobs. We have what’s called PERA, Public Employees Retirement Association. It’s a pension fund, and you put it in, it’s mandatory, so you contribute the employer contributes and overtime it builds up. Then when you’ve retired you have a distribution that most people don’t have. Most private businesses now have a 401k something like that. Minnesota still has a pension program, and it’s really attractive. I know sometimes it’s secondary to people who are looking to get into it, but it’s also a really good benefit for people that not everyone has anymore.

Sharon: If I’m listening to Dave today, the executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities, and I want to consider a career and apply, how do I start the process?

Dave: Keep it simple. Where do you live? What’s your transportation? Where can you work? Do you need to use public transportation? Do you have a car? Are you mobile? Those are important considerations. There’s a lot of cities in the metro area and there’s a lot of cities around. So, the jobs are plentiful. So, number one is mobility. Number two is skills. Number three, and most important for your listeners, is access. The League of Minnesota Cities has a website,, hit it, and there’s a career/jobs, click on that and you’ll see all kinds of jobs all throughout the state on city governments. We are the largest public sector posting for municipal jobs, I think, in the upper Midwest. Very easy to do, and if you want a specific city, go ahead and go on that city’s website; walk in their door and say hello. One of the things that would be good advice is to understand what the steps are. So when you’re applying for jobs, don’t be afraid to call the HR department and say “What are the steps?” “What can I expect?” “What is the time frame?”

Sharon: That’s really good to know. Also, when you think about professionals and careers and we always think about everybody needs to have a masters degree or a PhD or a bachelors degree. And actually, when we think about working at the city level, that’s not necessarily always true, right?

Dave: Oh, absolutely. A GED, a high school diploma, community college all of those types of educational levels are really important for city jobs. Whatever you have, if you’re talented you have values, you have skills, and you have good work ethic, cities want you. Cities want you. It’s about finding out what you want to do, where to apply, where you want to live, and what kind of job you want to do. Don’t let education be a barrier.

Sharon: No, there’s no question about it. I want to thank you for joining me today to have a conversation about how we close that gap and how we make sure that we are increasing racial inclusivity at our cities, in our cities, at the League of Minnesota Cities, and all of our municipalities. I really appreciate that. And I want to thank you so much.

Dave: Thank you very much.