Our FoW Experts Offer Answers to Three Critical Workforce Questions
By Pam Sornson, JD
With so many crises bearing down on the country and the world these days, it’s difficult to know which specific concerns to prioritize and which ‘next steps’ offer the most promise for a true solution. Those same problems occur within individual industries, too; leaders in every field have no shortage of ‘hot button’ issues to deal with on a daily basis. Many of them wisely turn to subject matter experts to find comprehensive information and a deeper understanding of the issues they face.
The same confusion is true in the field of education. Many educational leaders are not also experts in technology, logistics, or other concerns that have arisen because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their go-to experts are those professionals in other related fields who can offer insights and options that will work in an educational setting.
The roster of Panel Participants, Sponsor Representatives, and Keynote Speakers at PCC’s recent Future of Work Conference are all such experts. The insights they shared there can be significant for college administrators grappling with managing the pandemic while also planning their future semesters.
As an aspect of the Conference, we asked our guests to respond to three questions, each of which is relevant to the overarching theme of the conversation, “Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Workforce Development.” Their individual answers reveal the depth and breadth of their personal knowledge and experience; their collective response reveals that there are solutions to these problems and that, in many cases, there are specialists already working on them toward a more positive future.
Question 1: Are there ‘best practices’ for workforce development solutions?
Answering this query also meant assuming a relatively consistent description of the actual problem. Even before the coronavirus, America was suffering a significant skills gap as industries grew ever more technically complex. At the same time, training programs (when and where those were available) remained rooted in outdated legacy systems and standards. The explosive technological growth driving the corporate and industrial sectors has outpaced any comparable growth trajectory in the higher education sector, leaving industries without workers and potential workers without skills.
For the FOW participants, closing the skills gap is the primary ‘best practice’ for workforce development. The COVID concern has both underscored and highlighted that challenge as the most significant obstacle to genuine economic growth in the future:
Our opening Keynote Speaker, Josh Davies, CEO of the Center for Work Ethic Development, noted that COVID has changed our expectations of ‘workforce development’ because the transformations it has caused have eliminated as many as 42% of existing occupations. Those workers now need to find new jobs in new fields and learn the new skills they’ll need to be successful. His recommendations for best practices include:
eliminating obsolete job training programs in favor of new options designed to respond to actual workplace demands;
expanding apprenticeships into more fields to encourage hands-on learning and
expecting every worker also to be a life-long learner. Change is not only inevitable, it’s also happening faster than ever before.
Our closing Keynote Speaker, Sheneui Weber, Vice-Chancellor of Workforce and Economic Development at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, also shared her insights on workforce development, but from a different perspective. She noted that California is developing a Racial Equity Task Force as a ‘best practice’ means of including all available human resources in the economic recovery effort, including older learners and those who don’t fit the standard ‘worker’ or ‘student’ model. She also sees achieving digital competence as a ‘best practice’ strategy that will benefit all businesses and workers equally. Ms. Weber encouraged listeners to embrace the disruptions imposed by COVID as opportunities to rethink their business model and future planning considerations.
The panelists also share their insights on workforce development best practices:
Tamar Jacoby, CEO of OpportunityAmerica, believes that developing community colleges to be the logical providers of emerging workforce skills training should become a civic ‘best practice.’ Embedding the industrial region’s economic foundation into local community settings ensures that appropriate and timely workforce training is available to all at a reasonable price and with appropriate consideration of learner challenges.
Reg Javier, Executive Director of the CA Employment Training Panel, suggests building in prerequisites for underserved populations earlier in their educational journey, at the middle and high school levels. Connecting foundational education goals with future career opportunities will create a labor force ready to work from the day of graduation.
Clayton Pryor, Director of Workforce Development, Advocate Aurora Health (AAH), echoed the ‘best practice’ of more collaboration across schools, businesses, and governments. AAH is already blazing that trail by partnering with both local businesses and technology schools to ensure its hiring pool is adequately prepared when they’re finally ready to go to work. It also adopted innovative promotion policies that move experienced workers up through the company, following their occupations’ logical ranks.
Donald Bradburn, Kaiser Permanente’s Director of Workforce Planning and Development, advocates for expanding apprenticeship opportunities in as many different disciplines as possible to take full advantage of the benefits of hands-on, in-the-field learning. Like AAH, he also suggests upskilling existing workers into new roles and including technology training as a standard in all training programs.
Dr. Darlene Miller, Executive Director of the National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE), adds that facilitating more flexible work schedules would also go a long way to ensure all who wanted to work could do so when their calendar permits it. Limiting every program to a standard one-size-fits-all timeframe also excludes those who don’t actually fit that size.
Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, founder and Director of the Social Justice Learning Institute, encourages collaborations with schools and businesses, especially for those programs designed to serve underserved pops. As an added ‘best practice’: he advocates a continual focus on building Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion into the economic partnerships that drive whole regions, such as the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.
This discussion offered a plethora of both great strategies and workable role models.
Question 2: How do we manage COVID-19 concerns?
One thing all FOW conference participants agreed on was that the COVID-19 pandemic is providing an excellent opportunity to learn how to handle unexpected challenges. The public health crisis has impacted all aspects of society, and no one person or entity is immune from its continuing fallout.
Clayton Pryor intends to extend newly established, COVID-driven solutions to address future challenges. His organization has already demonstrated corporate adaptability in this situation, and he is confident that these lessons will provide him with excellent tools to use in the future.
Donald Bradburn has been impressed by innovations in service delivery models that facilitate similar services but in unorthodox ways, citing a ‘drive-through clinic’ as an example.
Both Sheneui Weber and Ramona Schindelheim, co-moderator of the event and Editor in Chief of WorkingNation, encourage using COVID-19 related responses as teaching tools for future concerns, health-related or otherwise.
They all agree that the pandemic has revealed the need for flexibility, even in the face of maintaining high-quality standards for all services.
Question 3: How do diversity and inclusion affect today’s and tomorrow’s workforce development practices?
This question triggered another near-unanimous response: every organization must be intentional about expanding its labor pool’s diversity to ensure it attracts and retains the high-quality workforce it needs to thrive.
Some panelists commented on the challenges presented by a newly established ‘diversity drive’:
Dr. Scorza, Mr. Javier, and Erica Jacquez, Executive Director of External and Government Affairs at Verizon, all mentioned the problems created by a lack of fundamental skills. These issues are made worse when technical skills are also absent. They each noted the need for added skills training at much earlier stages in a learner’s life (middle school and beyond).
Ms. Jacoby and Dr. Miller noted that, too often, the ‘preferred’ pool of potential workers is limited to a certain age and lifestyle range that leaves out older workers and those who must manage other life concerns in addition to gaining an education. These populations would benefit from a more flexible schedule and increased apprenticeship opportunities in addition to the traditional college experience.
Mr. Bradburn recommended expanding the diversity strategy beyond the corporate perimeter to include supply chains and third-party vendors. Actively searching for minority-focused companies with which to do business automatically includes the ‘equity’ element in those transactions.
Other panelists highlighted their organization’s diversity success stories:
Verizon (Javier and Jacquez) shared how the company’s focus on connectivity provided vital internet connections for college students who had lost that resource when they lost access to their school.
Ms. Weber underscored the fact that California’s Racial Equity Task Force is actively researching the challenges posed by unequal economic situations to find solutions to those challenges and the additional problems they cause.
The insights, opinions, and suggestions offered by the panelists at Pasadena City College’s second annual Future of Work Conference provide invaluable assistance to any entity – school or business – seeking to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and emerge from the calamity stronger than ever. We so appreciate their time and attention.
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