Charting Equitable Pathways for Career Navigation

What would it take for everyone to have a chance at a promising career, no matter their race, gender, or background? Can we create a workforce in which people of color are not crowded into low-wage, poor-quality jobs with few pathways to financial stability? What would that look like?

Exploring questions like these are at the heart of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions’ work. That’s why I’m excited about this week’s publication of our white paper Unlocking Economic Prosperity: Career Navigation in a Time of Rapid Change, a joint effort from the National Fund and Harvard University’s Project on Workforce that takes a look at our current workforce ecosystem to examine the often bumpy, winding roads people must navigate to gain sustainable employment.

Our team worked alongside Harvard’s researchers to identify five core drivers of career navigation success: (1) information accuracy and access, (2) skills and credentials, (3) social capital, (4) wraparound resources and supports, and (5) social structures and ecosystems. However, research shows that these resources are out of reach for many because systems are broken, which leads them on a path to jobs with few prospects for mobility or advancement.

We often talk about intergenerational poverty in our work, but we shy away from discussing intergenerational privilege that allows some to thrive while others struggle. This is the reality of our career navigation “system” — people from well-resourced, white-dominant communities stand a better chance of attaining economic success. This first-of-its-kind research lays the groundwork for better understanding the types of nuanced challenges inherent in the career navigation landscape. Moreover, it forces us as workforce development professionals to confront unconscious bias and systemic barriers and challenge our notions about the people we serve, requiring us to dig deeper to meet our aim of creating more equitable opportunities for all.

A quote from one of the workforce practitioners we interviewed for the paper particularly struck me as a simple, yet profound solution to this seemingly intractable problem:

“If I had a magic wand, I would rip apart all of the systems and ecosystems and rebuild them, putting a human in the center. Start with, what does that human need to thrive as a human? Then figure out the rest of it.”

How do we fix an ineffective career navigation system? We start by shifting our focus to centering the people, bringing their voices and lived experiences into the heart of the conversation. It is my hope that this research will jumpstart that conversation and help stakeholders, from educators and employers to policymakers and philanthropy coalesce around shared principles and coordinated action needed to shift toward an equitable future for career navigation.

Amanda Cage

-- President and CEO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions