Exploring more outer reaches of workforce development

Congresswoman Susan Davis receives Workforce Development Champion lifetime achievement awardThis year’s Workforce Frontiers Symposium on November 7 saw over 250 attendees hear from local and national speakers on the latest outer reaches of workforce development. 

Congresswoman Susan Davis received our first ever Workforce Development Champion Lifetime Achievement Award for her tireless work as Chair of the Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee and in promoting workforce policies that benefit both the workforce and businesses.

Below are some takeaways from the day.

It’s possible to be a small business that treats employees well and still thrive

Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant, a San Diego institution celebrating 50 years in the Kensington community, received the first ever San Diego Workforce Partnership Workforce Development Champion award for inclusive business growth, one of the five strategic pillars guiding our work.

We heard how the average tenure for workers at Ponce’s is eight years—in an industry with 75% annual turnover—in part because the restaurant tends to train and promote incumbent staff.

Income share agreements are helping move on equity in the workforce

Income share agreements (ISAs), which we first talked about as an idea in last year’s Workforce Frontier’s Symposium, offer a new way to access higher education.

An outcomes-focused funding model, the Workforce ISA Fund pays tuition upfront. Students then pay back the costs based on a percentage of income over a set period of time, only if  they obtain a job after completion of the program earning $40k or more a year. If the student does not earn any income, no repayment is expected 

The first ISA cohort in digital marketing features many job seekers who are less commonly found in tech careers, including 69% people of color, 63% first-generation college students and 45% female students.

Innovation drives exemplary employers who offer quality jobs

According to Mark Popovich, job quality  is a path to the American dream—how do we get companies on board? Popovich, the director of the  Good Companies-Good Jobs Initiative at The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program, says that innovation drives “exemplary employers;” the sweet spot with the largest gains is where innovation of product/service, method/process and human capital intersect.

One tool is a cloud-based data system developed by Working Metrics and the Good Companies-Good Jobs Initiative, which  generates a Social Impact Scorecard, looking at companies’ job growth, retention, earnings and benefits. It can even generate reports that look at the diversity overview of a company. The mission of the program is “to encourage and equip business leaders to enact strategies that simultaneously produce outstanding outcomes for their businesses and frontline workers.”

Popovich Social Impact Scorecard

Priority sector data is most effective when tied to people’s personality types

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Workforce Partnership Director of Research & Evaluation Sarah Burns shared about new priority sector data recently released in the form of posters and two-pagers designed to help people of all ages explore careers. 

The new pieces connect occupations with the  RIASEC framework to help students and job seekers better see how their strengths and interests can best contribute to the workforce. A substantial body of research has shown that interest fit predicts employment outcomes, such as job success, income and job performance more than any other factor, making it a key complement to the new data. 

Take the RIASEC assessment for free in Career Coach.

Refugees and immigrants are resilient

During a panel consisting of immigrant business owner Dyna Jones, CEO of  First Promise Care Services, former refugee Rahmatullah Mokhtar, now a financial education coordinator at the  International Rescue Committee  and Brooke Valle, strategy officer at the Workforce Partnership, Valle implored us all to use asset-based rather than deficit frames when thinking about what immigrants and refugees can offer—focusing on what individuals from special populations can bring to the table rather than what they lack.

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Mokhtar and Jones highlighted the strength and resilience that refugees and immigrants bring to the country. Jones first arrived in the U.S. with $35 and now employs over 60 people at First Promise Care Services and pays living wages. Mokhtar, who has advanced degrees from his home country of Afghanistan, was delivering pizza prior to joining the IRC team.

When asked what people and employers can do to support integration of new Americans, Mokhtar said:

  1. Employers can try to understand the resilience that it takes for refugees to navigate bureaucracy (and starting from zero again and again). Newcomers may not speak English well but have good talent.
  2. Support of county & policymakers to help smooth the path for refugees to education and training (re-certification or transfer skills to the workforce)

In response, Jones offered:

  1. Value employees; focusing on solutions to elevate them where they are at will elevate business as well.
  2. Recognize the strengths of immigrants.

Apprenticeships can advance racial equity

Also using an asset-based approach, Bashay pointed out the strengths of ethnic and racial diversity in the workplace. Across the board, however, people of color face disparities in educational attainment and projected job education requirements.

Molly Bashay: Racial disparities in educational attainment and projected job education requirementsThese disparities have huge economic implications for our workforce and for businesses, as there are economic advantages to a just and productive economy. Bashay pointed out that currently, there are more middle-skill jobs than workers trained to that level—a gap of 10% in skills mismatch between the percentage of workers with the necessary skills training and the percentage of jobs requiring skills training.

Additional workforce policies are needed to advance equity.

“The skills gap is robbing people, businesses and the economy,” says @mollybashay of @SkillsCoalition. “The gap isn’t going to fill itself, and so we have to do something different.” Click To Tweet

To that end, the National Skills Coalition has published nine recommendations for policymakers in a report called The Roadmap for Racial Equity.

One of the recommendations is using apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs—contextualized skills training—to advance racial equity.

As Bashay co-wrote in an  opinion piece on Fortune.com, “These days, pre-employment and pre-apprenticeship programs create formal on-ramps for workers to employers looking to hire—a more equitable form of access than requiring workers to rely on personal networks, which are often segregated. They expose workers to different work environments to prepare them for apprenticeships while also addressing barriers to employment, such as child care and transportation.” 

According to Bashay, the economy in 2015 would have been $2.5 trillion larger had there been no racial gaps in income. Public policy decisions have played a key role in forming these inequities, and therefore, must be an integral part of the solution.

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