On November 10, SkillWorks, Boston’s workforce development funder collaborative, along with the Boston Foundation’s workforce strategy, hosted a welcome conversation and discussion of the future of workforce development featuring new SkillWorks Executive Director Andre Green and Amanda Cage, President and CEO of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.
Over the course of an hour, the two leaders shared their insights on the state of the workforce development sector during the pandemic, and took questions from an audience of over 100 funders, practitioners and employers. They highlighted the critical connections between workforce development and other equity issues laid bare by the pandemic and social justice protests triggered by the deaths of George Floyd, Brionna Taylor and others.
"If you're a workforce development provider or agency or system," Gage noted, "You can't sit on the side and be like, 'That's the criminal justice system, that's not my business, right?' You need to actually think about how you engage that system to make sure that the people that you work with are getting access (to jobs and training)."
They also noted other long-standing structural boundaries that have prevented low-income workers, particularly women, workers of color or those with limited English proficiency, from accessing workforce training opportunities - but noted that these challenges, often highlighted as issues facing 'low-wage workers,' are challenges for our workforce, and workforce development, as a whole as we look beyond COVID-19 into the post-pandemic economy.
"We often tend to talk about like low wage workers, but this is happening to everybody. Low wage workers are the canary in the coal mine," said Gage. "When you see like people in tech, we think of that as a high skilled demand sector, but they are working on contract. They have precarious situations, and in some situations, they are concerned about all the things that we think of as being in this bucket of 'low wage workers.' And so, you know, as we think about work, and what it means and what it should give you access to and what kind of security it should provide, I think that's not just a question for low wage workers, it's a question for all workers."