Reflecting on 2021

In another year of uncertainty, we remained focused on our priorities.
Here are 10 highlights from 2021.

10+  Words of the Workforce

A coalition of more than 10 workforce and economic mobility organizations formed an innovative partnership to create a “field guide” to workforce terminology and concepts. Launched in September, the guide has been generating conversations around language and how it shapes the policies, practices, and perceptions that define the world of work.


9 Investor Partners

Our nine investor partners co-invest in our national network that is united in supporting a skilled workforce, promoting good jobs, and investing in equitable outcomes. Earlier this month we were thrilled to share our most recent investment from the WES Mariam Assefa Fund to improve economic mobility for immigrants and refugees in healthcare.


8 Critical Conversations to Advance Workforce Equity

In late January we announced the publication of our Advancing Workforce Equity Blueprints for Action for a virtual audience of nearly 1000 people. These blueprints have inspired challenging conversations, brought new and engaged audiences to the National Fund, and confirmed the importance and urgency of this work. Over the course of the year we’ve held additional events exploring the regional blueprints with local stakeholders and digging into the wealth of data they contain with our data partner, PolicyLink.


7 State of Our Workforce Episodes

Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that the only constant in life is change. That certainly describes the current labor market. Monthly jobs and employment numbers tell part of the story, but don’t fully explain what’s really going — things like the perceived labor shortage or the so-called “Great Resignation.” In June we launched a new monthly series, The State of Our Workforce: Where are We Now? In these short conversations, our experts explore timely issues at the forefront of workforce development.


6 Principles for Trauma-Informed Organizations

Sweeping technological change. Deeply entrenched inequality. An invisible virus. Political violence. We’re experiencing an epidemic of individual and collective trauma. The effects of all this trauma show up in the workplace. In April we published A Trauma-Informed Approach to Workforce, an introductory guide with a wealth of information for employers and practitioners, including six key principles that trauma-informed organizations follow—among them safety, transparency, and peer support. This is exciting and critical new work for us, and we look forward to learning in collaboration with our network.


5 Employers Delivering Good Jobs During the Pandemic

COVID-19 challenged our physical, mental, and financial health. While the headlines announced business closures, layoffs, and struggling essential workers, some employers in the National Fund network leaned-in to job quality. In July, we launched Frontline Forward to recognize employers whose practices protected, supported, and developed frontline workers throughout the pandemic. They made workplaces safer and provided compassion, support, and flexibility to workers and their families. People-first business strategies are a win in good times, but they can pay even greater dividends during times of crisis.


4 Pillars of Job Design

The Job Design Framework is the tool we use to help our network understand job quality and it has been central to advancing this work across our network for several years. We’ve learned a lot since its initial release in 2017. In August we updated the framework to better reflect the challenges and opportunities of job quality, making two big changes: we added a literal frame of racial equity and inclusion, and we added a fourth job design pillar for “voice.” Equity and voice must be part of any job quality strategy. Our new framework has both.


3 New Collaboratives in Our Network

Our network is the engine that makes our work possible. Across our innovation and implementation network, diverse local and regional partners come together generate prosperous and thriving communities. We are thrilled to have welcomed three new collaboratives in 2021 and expanded our footprint into two new states. Our newest network partners are Indianapolis Regional Workforce Partnership, Wilmington is Working, and Springfield WORKS.


2 Critical Resources to Advance Systems Change

Systemic racism and its presence and effects on the workforce system is among the most complex systemic challenges we face. A systems change mindset that looks deeper into connections and root causes is a very good way to approach the complex problem of racial equity. This year we published two critical resources to help advance systems change broadly and workforce equity specifically.


1 Definition of Worker Voice

We conclude this year-end reflection by getting to the heart of our mission: workers. We believe that workers having a voice contributes to their success. We have taken an important step into this new area of work by laying out exactly what we mean by worker voice. Our definition was developed with significant input from our network and refined through a collaborative process. Incorporating worker voice supports inclusive and equitable workplaces, increases engagement and retention, and generates more ideas, new perspectives, and better solutions.


We don’t know what 2022 will hold, but keeping the wisdom of Heraclitus in mind, we know it will involve change. And amid that change, the National Fund, our network, our partners, and our investors will remain constant in our efforts to build stronger communities where workers and businesses are thriving.