Working to Learn: Building Stronger Education-to-Employment Pathways

Recently, Harvard’s interdisciplinary Project on Workforce released a new report: Working to Learn: Despite a growing set of innovators, America struggles to connect education and career. The report identifies opportunities to create stronger, more equitable pathways from education to career, drawing on data from New Profit’s Postsecondary Initiative for Equity Initiative to assess the state of innovation in the sector.

The research comes to us at a critical moment — at a time when the economic fallout brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is putting enormous stress on millions of Americans. In particular, Black, Latino/a/x, Indigenous and other underinvested communities would benefit from much stronger pathways that integrate work, learning, and earning. Working to Learn examines how social enterprise organizations are connecting postsecondary education with employment opportunities.

The report identifies clear opportunities for the sector — from engaging employers more deeply to providing wraparound supports for workers and learners to prioritizing transferable, soft skills. Many of these challenges identified in the report are not only tied to innovators. We need systemic approaches if we want to advance change that is meaningful to workers in the short and long term. I see Working to Learn as a clear call-to-action for those of us working across education and employment — a call to:

  • Collaborate with equity in mind. Workforce challenges are intrinsically connected to a broader set of equity challenges. We need a diverse set of partners across different sectors willing to meaningfully work together to provide wraparound supports that address the full life of a worker — from transportation to housing to childcare.
  • Engage employers more deeply. We need to better engage employers as new reskilling technologies and solutions roll out. Workforce leaders need to recognize that their goal is to not just train people, but rather to place them into higher-wage jobs with opportunities for growth.
  • Increase the capacity and scalability of the most promising solutions. How do we get to scale? We need to better understand the pain points and incentives that drive social entrepreneurs working with employers and educators to create a better system.

At New Profit, we recognize the misalignment between employers, researchers, technologists, and funders when it comes to defining the skills that are most essential to success and collaborating effectively to help learners access these skills. This misalignment leads to ​labor market failures​ that keep the most vulnerable workers from accessing critical skills and career navigation advice. To combat this, we’re deploying a systems-based approach to our future of work strategy — acknowledging that this is a complex problem that will need existing players to work together in new ways to meet the evolving needs of the American workforce.

To start, the Postsecondary Equity for Innovation (PIE) initiative is designed to create stronger pathways for those entering the workforce. Complementing this, the Future of Work Grand Challenge creates opportunities for mobility in the workforce by rapidly upskilling displaced workers and those who are most at risk for being displaced.

If you’re interested in learning more about the report’s findings (see the full set here), New Profit’s systems-change approach, or broader implications for the sector, you can view our virtual event recording here and access the presentation slides.

Innovating + Investing at the intersections of the Future of Work, Race and Equity. Twitter: @angjack

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