#JFFHorizons Summit inspires and invigorates

June 18, 2018

SDWP staff at JFFHorizons Summit

“Not theoretical. Practical. Relevant. Helpful. Beyond thought-provoking. Challenging.”

These are the words Tanissha Harrell, program specialist at the San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP), used to describe Jobs for the Future (JFF) Horizons conference (#JFFHorizons) in New Orleans that took place in June of 2018.

Put together by JFF, a national nonprofit that drives change in the American workforce and education systems, Horizons is its biennial national summit that brings together practitioners and policymakers across the K–12 and higher education and workforce fields, as well as innovators in technology, investing and corporate talent development.

It was this mix of attendees that stood out from other workforce and education gatherings, according to SDWP staff who attended.

“It was amazingly inspiring,” said SDWP Program Specialist Amy Vance, “to be in a room with people from all over the country with the same thoughts—driving innovation to help our communities thrive during the coming years of employment transition.”

In addition to these and these major takeaways from the summit, other themes that surfaced includes:

Public-private partnerships are more crucial than ever.

At the JFFLabs’ AWAKE council meeting attended by SDWP VP of Strategy Brooke Valle, it is shared that workforce boards are becoming more agile; forty-eight percent all workforce boards operate as 501(c)(3) nonprofits, and as such, can qualify for more diverse funding streams, including private investments.

In recent years, SDWP has diversified our funding from 100 percent government sources to 67 percent today.

The idea of income-sharing is becoming popular in education, and by extension, in the world of training and workforce development. Instead of accruing student loan debt, people enrolled in education can choose to have their tuition paid for by private investment or an endowment that is paid back through their paycheck once they are employed. SDWP is partnering with Vemo Education and the University of California San Diego Extension to design and implement transformative income-based alternatives for education and training through income-sharing agreements.

“I am proud to work for a workforce board that is already providing clear pathways for our community members to join the workforce and connect with educational institutions and opportunities,” said Vance.

Converse more, lecture less.

To take advantage of the diverse groups attending #JFFHorizons, it was important to have plenty of opportunity to have deep dialogue with each other.

“We weren’t being talked to or talked at,” said Harrell. “The breakout sessions were down to earth—not just learning and teaching, but intuitive and interactive. I left feeling invigorated—not just with new ideas but how-to’s.”

Unlike other tech and workforce conferences, “there was a lot more dialogue than just hawking software,” added Valle. After all, “tech isn’t the answer,” said Valle. “It is just the means or facilitator; it doesn’t replace strategic thinking and relationships.”

We need to create not just jobs, but quality jobs.

A middle-skill job report released by JFF and Burning Glass Technologies tells us that middle-skill jobs in major sectors such as IT, health care, business and manufacturing can be further broken down into:

  • Lifetime jobs, where workers rarely advance to higher-level positions, but that usually pay well and offer long-term stability
  • Springboard jobs, where workers often advance to different roles with more responsibility and greater pay within the same career area
  • Static jobs, which offer low pay compared to other middle-skill roles and suffer from high turnover. There is little potential for advancement into higher-paying occupations or positions with greater responsibility

“While it is well established that some post-secondary education is necessary for obtaining a middle-skill job,” writes JFF, “our analysis uncovered clear differences in the impact of different post-high school credentials on career opportunities. Some play a critical role in driving advancement from the entry level, while others don’t appear to affect advancement at all.”

Understanding this analysis, JFF states, should “help drive an education and workforce system that values advancement, as opposed to just job placement.”

We must have the courage to respond to what the data is telling us.

In one plenary session called “Counteracting Compounding Inequity in Technology with Technology,” Blendoor founder and CEO Stephanie Lampkin spoke about bias in technology and hiring practices, as well as the occupations that will be phased out by artificial intelligence in the not-so-distant future.

It is estimated that 47 percent of current jobs are at risk for automation or other technology-based elimination.

“Think for example of truck driving,” said Vance. “Of so many men who are heavily in this field today, that job will be eliminated by 2030. We have to be able to transition these folks to new careers, but also think about currently how many people we are sending to truck driving school.”

Lampkin also talked about hiring practices in tech being a “mirror-tocracy” rather than a meritocracy. To counteract some of the biases in hiring, SDWP has been working with local employers to hire talent with nontraditional backgrounds through TechHire San Diego, an initiative to level the playing field.

“As a woman of color listening,” said Harrell, “I noticed the speakers did not use coded words or sugarcoat inequities, and audiences weren’t uncomfortable. I think we all realize that while everyone is part of the problem, we are also part of the solution.”

Diversity and equity take intentional work. Vance learned about hiring initiatives at The Hershey Company, which has incorporated the hiring of people with disabilities fully into their locations and has embraced diversity companywide.

“With large companies leading the way, we can develop more integration into our local businesses and help them make the transition,” said Vance. “For them, it was one person at the top who embraced the mission and believed in the cause that sparked the changes. I am hoping to bring that to some of our local sectors as well.”

Coming away from the conference, staff felt invigorated to take actionable steps.

On seeing where the future of work is headed, SDWP Director of Programs Vick Brannock said, “I realized I need to spend more time working with case managers on giving informed consumer choice.”

“We have to go to employers to help them and identify what they need,” said Harrell. “Are they really looking at the type of people they are willing to employ?”

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