A Bold New Plan to Make Job Training Worker and Equity Focused

It is no secret that structural racism permeates every facet of American life, as do sexism and ableism. These embedded evils often interact. It is easy to quantify that effect in the job market, where the racial wage chasm deepens by the year, the gender pay gap is narrowing at a glacial pace, particularly for Black and Latinx women, and workers with disabilities experience astronomical levels of involuntary unemployment. Advocates interested in improving employment outcomes for people of color, people with disabilities, and people who have experienced long-term unemployment, incarceration, or other barriers to employment are always looking for new ideas that could help narrow the gap. One such proposal, worthy of echoing, was recently shared at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event.

Job training can and should be a key tool in getting workers useful credentials that will help them build greater power in the workplace. Livia Lam, senior fellow and director for workforce development at CAP, recently released a new framework for analyzing where the current system falls short in setting workers up for success and what we can do going forward to ensure we are truly meeting their needs. This bold proposal envisions a fundamental shift in workforce development and proposes a new financing mechanism—the Workforce Equity Trust Fund (WETF)—that will help drive the conversation away from an unhelpful, blame-the-worker “skills gap” framing to one that centers true opportunity for workers.

NELP agrees that focusing only on employers’ needs is short-sighted and is not helpful in breaking down barriers to employment. Dr. Lam’s proposal carefully reviews various job training interventions and their shortfalls, and relies heavily on past research to advance ideas based on a funding scenario where employers have more at stake in the process. For example, workers currently bear the risk of losing time and other opportunity costs in training programs that may not pay off for them in the end. By enhancing employer contribution and giving workers and communities equal voice, there is more incentive for employers to make sure that training results in educational systems that add value to the workforce.

Dr. Lam’s paper adds an accountability dimension to these new ideas as well. While the paper presents several models that have proven successful in reducing inequality, collecting additional data is critical to understanding the longitudinal effects of interventions. This new vision calling for a number of additional metrics focused on whole-worker wellbeing will help advocates continue to retool and upgrade programs that are truly promoting equity.

We must continue to press for bold new ideas that tear down structural inequality, and this framework is an important step in that direction. As our workforce training laws will be moving toward Congressional reauthorization, tools like this will be critical in helping to rethink basic assumptions about fairness and inclusion.

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About the Author

Michele Evermore

Senior Policy Analyst, National Employment Law Project

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