Former senior policy advisor for U.S. Senator Tim Kaine to lead JFF's work to advance nonpartisan, practice-informed public policy focused on education, workforce development, and equitable economic advancement
WASHINGTON, DC (August 9, 2022) — Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit driving transformation in the American workforce and education systems to achieve equitable economic advancement for all, today announced the appointment of Karishma Merchant as Associate Vice President of Policy & Advocacy. Merchant joins JFF after serving more than a decade on Capitol Hill, most recently as Senior Education and Workforce Policy Advisor for U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), overseeing education, child welfare, and labor policy initiatives.
“Alignment between public policy and practice in the field is essential to create lasting, systemic shifts to ensure all people thrive in the economy and to scale change locally, regionally, and nationally,” said JFF President and CEO Maria Flynn. “We are thrilled to welcome Karishma and look forward to leveraging her expertise in convening leaders from both sides of the aisle, leading critical conversations, and driving transformation as we work toward equitable economic advancement for all.”
Merchant will lead JFF’s well-respected, nonpartisan policy team as it engages with federal and state workforce and education policymakers and practitioners from around the country to shape effective policy recommendations to meet the skills needs of America's learners, workers, and the economy. JFF’s policy experts synthesize research, evidence, and input from practitioners to inform the national dialogue and policy development
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, JFF published both federal and state policy recommendations for promoting an equitable recovery. JFF has also advocated for greater federal investment in workforce development as part of the Biden Administration's Infrastructure Law and continues to advocate for the America COMPETES Act, which includes a provision to expand Pell Grant eligibility to short-term education and training programs modeled after the bipartisan JOBS Act.
“I was drawn to JFF because my career has focused on expanding access and economic opportunities for all. After working at multiple levels of government and as a classroom teacher, I am excited to join an organization whose mission is focused on advancing equity and economic advancement,” said Merchant. “I am thrilled to be part of a team that takes an integrated approach to break down silos between K-12, higher education, workforce development systems, and economic development and uses evidence-based practices from the field to inform good policymaking.”
As a senior policy advisor for Sen. Kaine, Merchant navigated legislative strategy and built bipartisan relationships to advance policy in Congress and the executive branch. She has worked on the reauthorizations of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG), the Workforce Opportunity and Innovation Act (WIOA), and the Higher Education Act in addition to annual appropriations and legislation addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, including the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan. Most recently, Merchant helped craft the JOBS Act, championed by Sen. Kaine, to make high-quality, shorter-term education and training programs eligible for federal Pell Grants so workers can afford the job training and credentials necessary for in-demand careers.
Prior to her time in the Senate, Merchant was a researcher for the Tennessee Consortium on Research, Evaluation, and Development, evaluating the implementation efforts of Tennessee's $500 million federal Race to the Top grant. She also worked at the Tennessee Department of Education, managing the implementation of Common Core curriculum training for school leaders. Merchant began her career as a classroom teacher in Washington, DC, teaching high school social studies.
Merchant’s appointment comes during a period of significant growth for JFF. This year, the organization launched a new Center for Justice and Economic Advancement to eliminate economic growth barriers facing people with criminal records, as well as a new National Innovation Hub for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Registered Apprenticeship with a $13 million award from the U.S. Department of Labor.
JFF is deepening its work across federal agencies with a growing number of staff members with bipartisan executive and legislative branch experience. Over the last several years, the organization has been awarded more than $20 million by the Department of Labor, which includes awards to scale training for IT careers in five major workforce hubs, expand apprenticeship in advanced manufacturing to increase the number of people of color and women of all backgrounds in the industry’s workforce, and scale a leading-edge career navigation platform to Job Corps Centers nationwide. JFF has also been awarded more than $18 million by the U.S. Department of Education to develop and scale high-quality dual enrollment models in three states, and to strengthen digital literacy in adult education programs across the country.
Recently, JFF was awarded more than $4.5 million by the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce to support its Good Jobs Challenge grantees through national technical assistance and a community of practice.