Highlights from the National Fund’s biennial convening The Time is Now: Building an Economy That Works for Everyone
Despite 10 years of booming economic growth since the Great Recession, too many workers continue to be squeezed. Too many workers do not earn enough to provide for their families. There are too many barriers for workers looking for a good job. The bottom line is that today’s economy does not work for everyone.
That is why we chose The Time is Now: Building an Economy That Works for Everyone as our convening’s theme. This prompted the question, “WHY is the time now?”
We set out to answer it over two days of sharing, learning, and networking.
The time is now for a new direction and vision of the future.
Our president and CEO, Fred Dedrick, opened The Time is Now. He described the current state of the economy. These conditions, he said, call for a new set of strategic priorities for the country — and the National Fund. In order to build an equitable future where workers, employers, and communities are thriving and prosperous, the National Fund has adopted five strategic priorities that will guide the National Fund’s new direction for the next five years.
This new direction coincides with a leadership change on the National Fund’s board of directors. We are very excited to have Whitney Smith serve as our new board chair. Her leadership and stewardship will help us implement and accelerate our new strategic plan. At an awards dinner in honor of outgoing board chair Pete Strange, Pete passed the torch to Whitney (actually, it was a hammer). With our new board chair and our new strategic plan, the time truly is now for us to advance the workforce agenda in a new direction.
The time is now to build a more equitable and inclusive workforce.
In a fiery keynote address, Michael McAfee, president and CEO of PolicyLink, challenged us to address the systemic and structural barriers that prevent true equity. “The time is now for radically rethinking what we’re doing,” McAfee said. “The time is now for us to see entire systems.” We have to go beyond focusing on workforce systems, and also focus on making criminal justice, education, and other societal systems more equitable. While this may seem daunting, this work can start right now, in your organization. Our institutions can change, and become more equitable, but it is up to us, as individuals, to make it happen.
The time is now to give workers a seat at the table.
One way to create more equitable systems is to involve as many folks as possible. We ended the first day of the convening with a panel discussion on lifting up worker voice. The panelists shared inspirational vignettes about times when their voice as a worker was heard. Employers are struggling to fill open positions, and frontline workers know what skills should be prioritized, what potential applicants look for in a job, and how best to accomplish things. Workers are an asset to invest in and not a cost to be minimized.
The time is now to invest in the next generation of workforce development.
In this tight labor market, the old model of train and place no longer works. There are more open jobs than unemployed workers. It’s time to push new strategies and solutions that break down barriers that connect more workers with good jobs. In the second morning plenary, we learned how Boston is taking on next generation workforce development. And we heard a refrain: A tight labor market is a terrible thing to waste.
The time is now to drive impact in your community.
As a cool new addition to our convenings, the Ink Factory was there to capture our best moments in stunning works of art. Attendees were invited to contribute by responding to the question, “What will you do to drive more impact in your community?” Check out their responses.
The time is now to unleash the power of the network.
Across more than 30 communities, our network is testing, learning, innovating. We closed The Time is Now with a convention-style session that brought out the best in our sites — and the creativity was off the charts. From Chicago’s rhyming “Workforce Shuffle,” to Sarasota’s custom t-shirts, to Seattle’s “fish of transformation,” our network showed that they have big ideas, big humor, and big heart. Janice Urbanik sent us off with a rallying cry: The Time is Now!
The National Fund is driven by a belief in collaboration and partnership. In continuous learning. In seeking new ways of doing things. We are powerful when we come together to change the conversation around workforce and find common solutions that build an economy that works for everyone. That power was on full display in Dallas.