When Words Get in the Way

President’s Message
September 2021

Every field has its own common language, but industry terms can become too wonky or fall out of date as culture shifts. This is certainly true in workforce development where the terms — and acronym alphabet soup — we use can alienate the very people we are trying to communicate with.

That’s why I’m thrilled that the National Fund has collaborated with experts across diverse workforce organizations to address this challenge with a new field guide, The Words of the Workforce.

The guide demystifies workforce words like reskilling, degree inflation, and microcredentials. More than that, it explores terms that our field should reexamine or retire completely. For example, “low-wage” is always preferable to “low-skill,” because every worker has skills and every job requires skills.

Not only is the guide incredibly useful, it’s impressive to see so many organizations come together and align around a project that advances our field. The guide is sure to spark conversations about how language shapes the policies and practices that define the world of work.

It’s already off to a great start. Last week, a bunch of workforce folks (190 to be exact) gathered on Twitter to #TalkAboutWork. The one-hour Twitter chat produced 1,200 tweets, and became the sixth trending topic on Twitter. WorkingNation summarized the conversation here.

These conversations are particularly critical as our country reckons with systemic racism and inequities. It is clear we have historically relied on deficit-based workforce language that distorts reality, stigmatizes groups of people, and limits our imagination about solutions.

We are grateful for the partnership of Opportunity@WorkStrada Education NetworkTalent RewireWhiteboard AdvisorsAmerica’s PromiseCognizant FoundationGrads of LifeJobs for the FutureNational Skills Coalition, and New Profit in creating this field guide.

Amanda Cage

-- President and CEO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions