How to Build Job Quality into Your Workforce Development Approach
Until March 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment in the U.S. was at the lowest it had been in 50 years. We had arguably the strongest economy in the world—more Americans had jobs than ever before, consumer prices remained low and the stock market was on the longest economic expansion in history. But despite low unemployment rates, many workers struggled to find quality jobs—those with decent pay, benefits and predictable hours.
Then COVID-19 shook our country’s economy to the core. San Diego County alone reported to the San Diego Workforce Partnership more than 500 businesses and 80,000 workers impacted in 90 days, three times the number traditionally served in an entire year.
This same story is playing out in communities across the US. Instead of security, workers—particularly those of color or in low wage jobs—are experiencing reduced hours, temporary layoffs, unpredictable schedules, variable earnings and an overall lack of health and retirement benefits.
Decades of systemic racism are manifesting as huge chasms of those who “have” and “have not” along racial lines while low wage workers and small businesses are struggling to reinvent themselves to adapt to the changing economy. As workers strive for a “new normal,” the effects of shelter in place are laying bare economic reverberations that are likely to shake the economy far beyond even the most conservative timelines for a vaccine.
As a public workforce agency, we believe that the path forward is to rebuild equitably. One building block for equity is job quality. Efforts to improve the quality of jobs help to shift centers of power by equipping workers, paying fair wages that sustain families and providing career ladders and employee ownership opportunities.
Quality jobs are not a luxury. They are not a sidebar. They are not something we can push off until after the crisis has passed. The creation, protection and elevation of quality jobs will take focus and partnerships. As a community, we must rethink how we invest, measure and support success.
Let’s rebuild a community where access and representation mean everyone is at the table; success is measured in terms of economic mobility, wealth building, and worker voice; and quality jobs are the cornerstone of our economy.
Here are six actions workforce practitioners can take now to make that vision a reality:
1. Establish a Job Quality Framework
Develop, in collaboration with partners in your community, a shared framework for job quality to use as your north star. Check out San Diego’s job quality indicators (photo above) and Aspen Institute’s Job Quality Tools Library for inspiration.
2. Signal Values Through Spending
Once in place, determine if your organizational spending and procurement processes support job quality. If you see areas where you can do more, lay out a plan for the right next step. Spending is an important signal of value—it can influence the behavior of your suppliers, partners and grantees, as well as transform the experience for the individual workers serving your organization. Consider embedding job quality indicators into your existing contracts and future procurements.
3. Invest Resources in Programs and Employers That Prioritize Job Quality
Consider how your existing funding can be used to incentivize behavior or fill gaps. For example, if you have funds for internships, on-the-job training or other wage subsidy programs, commit to funding wages at or above the local self-sufficiency level, review where funds can support benefits, and prioritize the use of funding for employers who create pathways to quality jobs. See a sample self-sufficiency calculator and check out the Working Metrics tool to establish a baseline for your data and jumpstart a powerful conversation with your partners.
If you provide loans to businesses, you might offer products to assist businesses in implementing family-friendly features such as pooled benefits or child care access. You can also analyze how job quality can serve as an underwriting criterion that facilitates access to capital and provides ongoing technical assistance and engagement opportunities. Check out examples such as the High Roads Kitchens program for inspiration.
4. Focus on Outcomes Instead of Outputs
As you structure new programs, shift grant deliverables from outputs (e.g. number of trainings, number of placements) to outcomes and impact, including inclusive retention and promotion, reduced reliance on social services or debt burden and increased wealth building and employee ownership. While such metrics are harder to measure, they ultimately provide a clearer view of whether the lives of those you serve have truly been transformed.
Consider awarding points in your procurements for programs that demonstrate higher levels of evidence (see National & Community Service Agencies notice of funding for inspiration) and invest time to educate staff on the evidence continuum, which infuses rigorous evaluation and measurement into every phase of a program’s lifecycle to build a cumulative evidence base for a program.
5. Reimagine How You Serve Businesses
Many companies are struggling not only to survive and thrive during this crisis but also to grapple with the need for increased equity, diversity and inclusion within their business model. Consider building out competencies within your workforce or economic development organization to provide technical assistance to help businesses to improve their bottom line through the attraction, development and retention of a diverse talent base. This includes helping employers:
- Leverage creative pathway programs, such as TechHire, which targets underrepresented populations (Job Opportunities)
- Consider the use of creative financing approaches for learning, such as Income Share Agreements, where employees can retrain without upfront cost (Job Features)
- Look at ways to expand benefits through employee ownership opportunities (Job Features)
6. Build Worker Agency
Creating a sense of agency for individuals is a powerful way to increase worker power and voice. Help your job seekers, students or stakeholders make informed choices on jobs and career pathways based on the job quality framework. Provide age-appropriate guidance that highlights the intersection between interests and preferences (what they love), knowledge, skills and abilities (what they can be paid for), labor market data (what employers need) and job quality (what the individual needs). If your organization posts or sources jobs, consider how you can capture job quality information as part of the posting to make it easier for readers to navigate.
7. Partner with Purpose
Consider using job quality and inclusive growth as the pillars around which you center your Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), strategic plans or interagency projects. Leverage the job quality indicators as metrics that guide and inspire the partnership.
To discuss partnership, best practices or activating job quality initiatives, contact PeterCallstrom@workforce.org.