In September 2022, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions gathered with other workforce development leaders in Minneapolis for our biennial convening. We set out to address how we can all SHIFT The Future of Workforce.
What it means to “shift the future of workforce” is largely informed by where one sits within the broader workforce ecosystem. For us at the National Fund, it means changing the conversation about workforce development so that workers have the supports they need to thrive, race does not dictate employment outcomes, and all jobs are good jobs.
Of course, naming a vision for what you want to shift is the easy part. We asked the almost 400 participants to consider how we might shift the future of workforce given the needs. Let’s just say, they came up with quite a few ideas!
Here are several themes that emerged based on what attendees shared:
The need to build worker power and listen to workers was the most cited SHIFT.
“Talk to workers and those not working and meaningfully include their voice in strategizing.”
“Those in power need to make a commitment to sharing power.”
At the National Fund we encourage a human-centered approach to designing workplaces and have detailed why worker voice matters. Collaboratives in our network are finding ways to ensure worker training incorporates rights in the workplace, such as Workers’ Rights for Workforce Development curriculum.
SHIFT Job Design
Participants called for a commitment from employers to engage in the practice change necessary for quality jobs.
“Employers need to be truly committed to quality careers for underserved communities.”
“Train managers and supervisors to foster a more supportive work environment.”
“Establish career paths for entry level positions so they don’t become dead ends.”
Respondents recognized the outsized role our assumptions and narratives play in the decisions we make.
“Shift narratives to focus on systemic solutions, not individual fixes.”
“Take a hard look at who we think deserves good jobs.”
“It’s not about getting people into jobs, but about getting people into careers.”
Exploring and interrogating narratives is core to the long, hard work of transformative systems change. The National Fund recognizes the need for the workforce development to take a systems thinking approach and developed a toolkit for practitioners to kickstart their systems change work.
Many in attendance recognized that the enormity of the shifts required demands collaboration across sectors and stakeholders.
“Create unique public/private and community level partnership that collectively work toward achieving common goals.”
“Establish better alignment and coordination between workforce ecosystem stakeholders.”
“Stop fighting over crumbs.”
Collaboration is at the core of the National Fund network, which is made up of Regional Workforce Collaboratives that bring stakeholders together to pool and align resources toward a shared vision and coordinate action to address siloes and duplication. The National Fund’s latest impact report details the amazing work of the collaboratives that make up our powerful network.
SHIFT How We “Show Up”
Attendees called for the need to be bold, support difficult conversations as an ecosystem, and to be in the muck of this hard work together.
“We need introspection paired with accountability for equitable outcomes.”
“We have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
“System accountability is needed for we have contributed to a broken ecosystem.”
At the National Fund we have witnessed the power of peer-based conversations and relationships as a mechanism for advancing leadership development in racial equity. The Liberation Learning Community is a unique space for members of our network to support each other to drive equitable change.
SHIFT Training and Education
While the National Fund recognizes that we must move beyond a singular focus on training workers, we also know we cannot completely ignore upskilling needs. Attendees highlighted the important place training has in making a real difference in peoples’ lives—but with a bit of a design twist
“Create flexible accessible training and credentialing opportunities.”
“Pay workers to learn new skills.”
“Pay stipends during training.”
Several collaboratives in the National Fund network will be exploring what effective training looks like through the Good Jobs Challenge grants awarded by the Economic Development Agency. We can’t wait to see what evolves from this opportunity.
SHIFT Worker Supports
Several folks called for a need to focus on the barriers workers may face and explore all the other systems that interact with workforce development.
“Have an openness to understand the barriers people have and determine all the supports needed to shift.”
“Create more access to affordable childcare.”
“Build affordable housing close to work.”
See how four collaboratives in our network are addressing systems outside workforce development – from transportation to criminal justice. Additionally, given that recovery from the pandemic is far from over, we call for greater emphasis on trauma informed approaches for workforce.
It’s hard to make progress without a clear sense of what problem looks like on the ground. Participants shared a need to understand the qualitative and quantitative data behind the shifts we seek.
“We need to increase awareness of disparities.”
“Intentionality on employment data by race and gender.”
“Shared understanding by multiple stakeholders back by data and powerful individual stories.”
At the National Fund we know that disaggregating data by race and gender is a first step to taking meaningful action. The Workforce Equity Dashboard provides reliable, uniform data on population- and community-level equity indicators relevant to our work. Our Advancing Workforce Equity series offers insights and analysis from disaggregated data in five U.S. regions and actionable recommendations for equitable economic recovery.
Lastly, participants suggested that we need to advocate for policy shifts.
“Shift congress to prioritize workers.”
“Embed equity and job quality metrics as a condition for public funding.”
“End to at-will employment.”
Our partners at the National Skills Coalition take these comments to heart through their priority issues, including worker safety net, apprenticeships, and higher education. Policy shifts can play an essential role in meaningfully addressing the other shifts attendees identified as priorities.