Last week, Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit working to ensure educational and economic opportunity, hosted its first annual summit. Entitled Voices for Opportunity and Economic Mobility, the summit brought together over 650 educators, employers, funders, policymakers, and researchers in conversation and collaboration on how to push forward the initiatives needed to improve economic mobility. The engagement at the panels and workshops of the summit was exceptional and sought to give all members of the educational ecosystem a common language with which to work.
“You all know that mobility is the core issue. It’s not just the core issue for people at the bottom of the labor market, but it’s the core issue for people who are dislocated, it’s the core issue for people who are impacted by trade.” 1
– Paul Osterman, JFF Board Member
From our presence at the conference and interactions with myriad advocates in the education system, we highlight below three key themes that arose from the conference.
Community Colleges and their Role with WIOA
With the WIOA state unified and local plans and the WIOA performance accountability provisions just recently taking effect, there was renewed discussion on how certain changes in the Act will impact community colleges. At the conference, Scott Ralls, President of Northern Virginia Community College, noted that “economic mobility is the ‘purpose’ for community colleges.” With a stronger focus on credentials, WIOA aims to promote better alignment between workforce programs and community colleges so that the skills and credentials earned by job seekers better match employers’ needs.2
Outcomes a High Importance to For-Purpose Organizations
Many for-purpose organizations struggle to make an impact in the communities they serve as fragmentation continues across the non-profit and workforce development sectors. Industry change has increased the level of scrutiny from funders and pressure to produce results, metrics and outcomes has never been greater. A 2014 GrantStation Survey of Nonprofits illustrates the trend in decreasing government funding, reporting an 8% decrease in federal grants, a 9% decrease in state grants, and a 5% decrease in local government awards to nonprofits.3 Finding effective ways to scale their initiatives will be critical for the survival of many small to middle-sized for-purpose organizations.
Renewing the Emphasis on Apprenticeship Programs
A third recurring theme of the summit was notably the renewed emphasis on apprenticeships. These discussions come in the wake of the Department of Labor’s recent unveiling of a $50.5 million labor grant competition for states nationwide.4 The program gives states the opportunity to expand and integrate apprenticeship programs into their education and workforce systems. With research showing that more than 87% of apprentices retain their jobs following program completion, this initiative seeks to help employers in need of more skilled workers.5
In his address to the audience at the JFF summit, Juan Salgado, President & CEO of the Instituto del Progreso Latino, closes out by emphasizing the need for institutions to move quickly on their initiatives:
“Urgency is critical here. We have got to act like every one of those unfilled jobs is the job that our children need in order to bring food to their families.”
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