Washington D.C. August 16, 2023 – The National Fund for Workforce Solutions today announced it is collaborating with Harvard University’s Project on Workforce on a research project aimed at better understanding the career navigation landscape nationwide. This new collaboration offers a ‘best of both words’ approach that applies both an academic and field-based lens to examine programs and systems that impact career trajectories. The project aims to produce recommendations that will lead to better economic opportunities for many underserved populations.
“Career paths are much like snowflakes — no two are the same, but environmental factors shape each,” said Michelle Wilson Ed.D, National Fund director of evaluation and learning. “In addition to their family networks, both public and private educational systems expose young people to career possibilities. But socioeconomic status will likely shape a person’s experience and expectations, which results in a two-tiered labor market system marked by occupational segregation. This research will allow us to explore some of the key drivers of this issue and ultimately make recommendations that will help to create a more equitable workforce.”
Well-resourced, white-dominant communities often have career exploration programs that are robust and structured and are more likely to establish an expectation that young people will enter a four-year college and pursue living-wage careers. In contrast, students in low-resourced communities who are often Black, Native American, and/or Latino, are less likely to benefit from similar programs and the personal networks afforded their well-resourced counterparts. Research shows that these scenarios are more likely to create conscious and unconscious opportunities for tracking and guiding learners and workers to pursue an occupation dominated by people with similar socioeconomic, gender, and/or racial identities, resulting in skewed representation of demographic groups in certain occupations.
“Career navigation is broken in the United States,” said Kerry McKittrick, associate director of the Harvard Project on Workforce. “We know very little about which education and employment pathways lead to economic mobility, and for whom. The data that does exist often overlooks the role of race, ethnicity, gender, and family wealth in economic advancement — yet occupational segregation continues to pervade our system. This research will allow us to identify the practices that empower workers and learners in their career trajectories, and make actionable, high-impact recommendations for practitioners and policymakers to increase equity and economic opportunity in the labor market.”
Wilson is leading primary research of the National Fund’s network of workforce development practitioners and the job seekers and workers they serve. The National Fund team and researchers from Harvard are currently working together to co-develop a white paper on career navigation. The National Fund will also develop journey maps that illustrate people’s lived experiences navigating the workforce and expand the indicators used in the National Fund’s Workforce Equity Dashboard .
On August 22, project leaders will convene national experts, workers and advisors from the National Fund’s network at Harvard’s campus for a roundtable discussion about key findings and recommendations to inform the white paper.
“We are excited to bring together practitioners and researchers as well as workers with lived experience to share their reactions and ideas,” said National Fund Chief Program Officer, Michelle Rafferty. “Too often our field fails to center and elevate worker voice. By centering people whose lives are impacted most, we hope to facilitate an equitable, grounded conversation that helps the field better understand what changes are needed.”
The white paper is scheduled for publication in October and is expected to drive evidence-based practices, future policy and advocacy efforts, and future research.
The full project will wrap up in February 2024.
About National Fund for Workforce Solutions
The National Fund for Workforce Solutions envisions an equitable future where all workers have the resources required to thrive, race does not dictate employment outcomes, and all jobs are good jobs. We are a recognized leader in establishing and scaling effective strategies that foster racial equity in the workforce to help communities thrive. Our dynamic national network is comprised of more than 30 regional workforce collaboratives that convene cross-sector stakeholders and align resources toward collective action for greater impact. Our four solutions — activating employers to make jobs better, equipping workers for success, changing systems for improved outcomes, and co-investing for impact — are how we work to achieve our goals. Learn more at www.NationalFund.org.
About the Project on Workforce
The Project on Workforce is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project between the Harvard Kennedy School’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the Harvard Business School Managing the Future of Work Project, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The Project produces and catalyzes basic and applied research at the intersection of education and labor markets for leaders in business, education, and policy. The Project’s research aims to help shape a postsecondary system of the future that creates more and better pathways to economic mobility and forges smoother transitions between education and careers. To learn more, visit https://www.pw.hks.harvard.edu/.