Rising to the Challenge

Published oct. 05, 2016

By Kathy Mannes and Nancy Hoffman

At a time when divisiveness has cast a pall over our country, new alliances are inspiring ways to bring us together. We all have a role to play in addressing longstanding social and economic inequities, and employers are finding new ways to contribute to this effort. Although we are personally heartsick at recent events and underlying barriers, our work at JFF with employers, in addition to our many traditional partners, heartens many of us and gives us hope in the face of recent waves of extreme violence and brutality. These employers are critical players in the effort to ensure economic mobility and a brighter future for all.

Jobs for the Future’s (JFF) Voices for Opportunity Summit in New Orleans last June included employers and industries that are promoting economic solutions and providing the leadership to elevate the work we do. We are holding critical conversations and taking action to address issues including college access and completion, alignment of skills and work, and credentialing. These efforts have been supported by public investments and leveraged through private sector and philanthropic support. Importantly, they speak to the need to invest in people for our collective economic and social benefit.

At the JFF Summit, Lumina Foundation sponsored a meeting of employers, led by Nick Pinchuk at Snap-on and Elliott Masie of the Learning Consortium, to discuss how they can contribute to advancing the workforce. Their ideas will move forward. Here are some examples of how employers are responding to the call to action.

Recently, JFF worked with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Institute (AHLEI) to promote ways to ensure career and wage growth for the current 15.5 million hospitality employees and for those who will fill the close to 12 million emerging jobs. Companies like Hilton and TGI Fridays provided leadership for expanding access to registered apprenticeship, with support from the U.S. Department of Labor.

We are excited and encouraged to see industries come together in recognition of the pathways and potential they have to offer people of all ages, colors, and nationalities. Shelly Weir at AHLEI says, “We are proud to partner on this important workforce and economic development initiative. Our industry is booming, with six consecutive years of job growth. Ours is an industry where dreams happen and opportunities exist for all.”

The 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, led by Starbucks, formed a coalition of employers committed to hiring opportunity youth. The voices of employers from many industries are being heard in cities across the country, creating excitement and hope for young people. In addition, the commitments made by over 100 companies as part of UpSkill America are helping frontline workers reach their potential.

But frontline workers seeking career advancement and opportunity youth already have had hard knocks in life and in the labor market, and they need help to find their way to employment and education. JFF is also working with employers whose goal is to reduce the number of young people who reach their early twenties without a useable credential. That means starting as early as middle school and opening doors to work experience and knowledge about careers so that young people can make wise choices. Two companies that are on the cutting edge of this effort partner with JFF: The Wonderful Company and SAP. Both are working closely with schools to develop career pathways—the former in agriculture business, plant science, and mechanics, and the latter in IT. In both initiatives, young people who would never have had the opportunity to form relationships with employers, visit work places, and learn the technical skills required for jobs at these companies, are flourishing as part of these new experiences.

These efforts help us see a future for work that teams the public and private sectors for both economic and social return. Collectively, these employers represent a concerted effort to bridge the education, skills, and demographic gaps that have created an economic chasm. And they emphasize the critical role of our private sector partners in helping us build and sustain economic mobility. But this is only a start. We at JFF hope to amplify the voices of these employer leaders and help them build the ranks of employers engaged in this effort. Indeed, employers are an essential and exciting part of the solution to the problems our nation faces.

Editor’s note: This post is in response to the blog, “The Fierce Urgency of Now”, a blog that addresses the recent upsurge of brutal violence in the U.S., and enables JFF staff to share their pertinent thoughts, whether professional or personal, about these social injustices. 

Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Labor