Dear Mayor Walsh,
I am writing to you as the daughter of a factory worker who benefited greatly from the protections provided by the union. I now spend my career working to ensure that every worker has dignity in work and access to a living wage.
It is a great opportunity for our country with you, Mayor Walsh, at the helm of the Department of Labor to carry on your lifelong commitment to put workers at the center with an explicit lens on racial equity. Knowing how committed you are to workers, I would like to offer some recommendations on how worker-centered policies can help create a more equitable future of work and shared prosperity.
As the newly nominated labor secretary, you are faced with one of the most daunting tasks of the new administration — getting Americans back to work. As has been glaringly clear over the last four years, policies need to not only shift towards centering on workers and their needs but must also recognize the disproportionate impact that exists for Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities. As labor secretary I hope you will approach all policy interventions with an equitable lens to create a Future of Work that works for everyone.
Just as you have been such a strong champion for unions and the labor movement, we trust that you will take the next wave of the movement to put equitable access to economic opportunity front and center in Biden Harris Administration’s work. I along with my colleagues would welcome the opportunity to partner on this work. We have five recommendations for you based on the work funding an equitable future of work that we see as critical to the livelihoods of millions of Americans across the country.
Center workers in the process
As we have seen, the policy responses to COVID-19 have focused on spurring business, opening the economy and protecting consumers, but support is desperately needed for workers and job-seekers. Identifying workers as the main beneficiaries will allow our recovery to extend vital government support to those who need it most. This means actively seeking input from diverse workers in developing policy goals, outcomes and ideas, as those who are closest to the problem are often most qualified to create the solutions. Equity must be top of mind. The American workforce cuts across different skills, occupations, races, genders and more — acknowledging these different perspectives creates policies that answer the needs of everyone, not just the select few.
Advance collaborations that promote lifelong learning
The skills needed to obtain secure, higher-income employment are evolving faster than ever due to new technologies and automation. Not only must we redouble our investments in successful institutions — vocational training, community colleges, and other reskilling programs — we must also explore innovative interventions to overcome shortcomings in our education system and the persisting skills gap. Apprenticeships are a proven means to bring entrants into the workforce and equip them with the right know-how. Costs for these apprenticeships should be shared, with the government providing tax breaks and subsidies, and businesses dedicating staff development funds to advancing the skills of every pay-grade (not just mid-level or executive workers). Our new reality demands that each of us become a professional life-long learner, committed to continuously evolving and adapting.
Account for workers’ lived experiences
When the new administration is implementing labor policies, it must consider the entire lived experiences of workers and job seekers, and make sure their basic needs are met. From childcare to transportation, we have seen how a lack of foresight into the daily lives of workers has been exacerbated due to the pandemic. The fact that nearly 2.2 million women (many of them women of color) have left the workforce since the start of COVID-19 is appalling and needs to be addressed through policies that make support systems like childcare a universal benefit. We need to discuss the intersections of other critical safety nets like transportation and healthcare to get Americans back to work in a supportive and reliable manner, which will involve ongoing and thoughtful collaboration with other departments. One way to ensure these unique experiences are captured is by forging close partnerships with proximate leaders who represent their communities.
Define success by sustainable outcomes
At the end of the day, success and outcomes should be measured not just by how many people learn new skills or get a job, but also whether they are able to earn a meaningful and sustained living. The stakes have always been high, but the pandemic has forced us to reckon with social and economic effects head-on. In its Reimagining Pathways to Employment challenge, MIT Solve has shed light on how the success of training programs is influenced by a host of issues, and how thinking creatively about wraparound solutions can address them. These must be incorporated into our meaningful policy development and implementation, including a particular focus on the challenges facing women, communities of color and others who have historically lacked access to the same opportunities.
Treat these issues with urgency
The exponential development of new technologies in recent years means we urgently need to reskill Americans to get them back to work in new positions that didn’t even exist a year ago — and support workers from industries we previously thought secure, such as hospitality. A recent report by the World Economic Forum estimated that 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labor between humans and technology. As you determine where to invest, and what to prioritize, time and creativity are crucial. XPRIZE’s Rapid Reskilling competition which will reduce the time it takes to reskill under-resourced workers by 50 percent and prepare them for jobs of the future is an example of out-of-the-box thinking that moves the needle forward.
I write this with a shared vision to create a future of work that works for all — taking into account the diverse communities and voices that we should celebrate as Americans. Last year, we launched the Future of Work Grand Challenge, powered by XPRIZE, MIT Solve, JFF and leading philanthropic partners to rebuild our economy and get Americans back to work. As part of this challenge, we expect to learn more about strategies that work and how to best collaborate with existing infrastructures like workforce boards — all with the hope that these insights will inform future policymaking and achieve broader systemic change that helps prepare 12 million Americans from underinvested communities for workforce success by 2025.
I along with my partners would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to explore our recommendations and are available to serve as advisors.
Looking forward to working together to create a Future of Work that works for everyone.
Dr. Angela Jackson, Managing Partner, New Profit