What caught our attention at the State of the Union message yesterday was the President’s announcement that Vice President Biden will lead an overhaul of workforce training programs to make them more focused on the needs of business, connecting people who need jobs to job openings available now. President Obama additionally spotlighted community college training with a focus on building the skills that employers need.
This aligns with what we see as accelerating attention by philanthropy to workforce and job creation. In corporate philanthropy, this includes the newly announced $250 million commitment by JP Morgan Chase Foundation to its new skill building initiative. The Bay Area was treated to direct communication about this ambitious plan from Bruce McNamer, its capable leader who has deep roots in this community. The internal advisory group for this initiative will be led by none other than CEO Jamie Dimon, and former Domestic Policy chief Melodie Barnes. Bruce’s headline was the need to bridge the skills gap given that there are 11 million or so unemployed people, but 4 million or so job openings in the US.
With unemployment still stubbornly high, and increasing attention to the issue from the President and Congress, there has been more news coverage than ever about poverty and economic mobility, including a major pull out section of the Wall Street Journal devoted to the topic last weekend, and a 60 Minutes piece on YearUp. (its growth was supported by the Social Innovation Fund which also funds REDF).
I have also seen foundations like Bank of America’s which has had a longstanding workforce development program, and others like Heron, Surdna, Annie E. Casey, Kresge, and Kellogg increasingly interested in how to include the kinds of employment social enterprises that we support as part of their range of job creation and skill development investments.
This attention is a breath of fresh air to REDF, which has been laser focused on job creation and workforce development. We believe that social enterprise offers a way for these great initiatives from the federal government to philanthropy to include people who can work and want to work, but have the toughest time accessing jobs.
Two other forums spotlighted similar issues. I recently joined the Advisory Board of the Insight Center in Oakland whose new leader, the talented Henry Ramos has hit the ground running. I connected there with Jack Mills who has done an extraordinary job growing the National Network of Sector Partners. I believe there are important connections that the employment social enterprise community can and should make with these sector-based initiatives.
And lastly, the new Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, made a surprise appearance last week at a meeting of employment and training administrators from Region VI at the SF Department of Labor office, calling for business-focused training and career ladder approaches that encompass all workers from those recently unemployed, to those experiencing long-term and chronic unemployment. I was there because I had been asked to speak to the group about employment social enterprise – invited by the extraordinarily creative team DOL is lucky to have in Region VI, led by Virginia Hamilton (and includes the indefatigable Diane Walton.)
Jobs and training are on the national agenda like never before. Let’s make sure that this time people who have been chronically jobless are counted in, and the powerful, revenue-generating social enterprise model is part of the solution!