“In order to see the transformative and equitable world we want, we’re going to have to try things we’ve never tried or even seen before.” That’s the truth spoken by SkillWorks Executive Director Andre Green, as he introduced SkillWorks’ revolutionary new systems-change-oriented approach aimed at elevating and solving the systemic barriers to economic opportunity and advancement.
At an online forum on June 16, SkillWorks and the Boston Foundation announced the launch of the SkillWorks Fellowships Solution & Design Lab for Workforce Innovation, and introduced its inaugural cohort of Fellows – organizations at the leading edge of designing and implementing new approaches to workforce development. Boston Foundation Vice President and Chief Programs Officer Orlando Watkins, who chairs SkillWorks’ Advisory Board, opened the forum contextualizing the initiative within TBF’s recently articulated pathway of working toward equity though building and repairing across multiple sectors—including the workforce development sector.
As the pandemic took its toll on the field, SkillWorks staff and partners took a deep look at where workforce development in our region has been and where it needs to go. Green summarized the trends they noticed: We are and have been good at job training. And that’s not sufficient. Getting the first job is hard, but not the end of the journey. We need to offer support to move beyond the entry level. We need to help people build networks. And we need to develop leaders, finding ways to fill the “middle space” so that the next generation of leaders can thrive. Because the pandemic opened our eyes to the inequities in the economy and its waning offers a chance for a re-set, the Fellowship emerged as a way to give practitioners a chance to step back from the day-to-day grind and think about where we should go.
Two categories of awards were given: Solution Grants of $200,000 over two years (and up to $20,000 for consulting) for ideas that were implementation-ready; and Design Grants of $50,000 for one year for further development of promising ideas. All will participate in a learning community and design lab with other SkillWorks Fellows.
Offering his congratulations to the Fellows and appreciation for the imaginative and collaborative grantmaking process, Boston Foundation President and CEO M. Lee Pelton then moderated a panel that discussed workforce and economic equity at the state, city, and organizational level.
Massachusetts Secretary of Labor Rosalin Acosta, Boston Chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion Segun Idowu, and Mass General Brigham Senior Director of Workforce Opportunity MJ Ryan shared the Zoom screen and their thoughts on workforce development in this unique moment. Acosta noted that “equity is expensive” but pointed to the federal relief money in state coffers earmarked for workforce issues and budget line items under discussion now as cause for hope. Idowu quoted his grandfather in cautioning, “Don’t confuse movement with progress,” emphasizing the need to keep specific efforts attuned to the larger strategy to fully address inequities and track metrics that take in the whole picture. Ryan illustrated equity in individual terms: “We all want to contribute to society outside of our role at work. But who gets to do that? If you have to work three jobs, you have no time to contribute in other ways.”
A year from now we’ll gather to showcase the SkillWorks Fellows organizations; they will present what they’ve learned and achieved over the past year. SkillWorks will act as a thought partner and elevate these ideas to other funders, iterating along the way and learning with awardees.