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Planning for the coming economic recovery by building careers

November 02, 2020

Career-DevelopmentAs communities across the nation continue to deal with the economic impacts of COVID-19, leaders are looking at immediate ways to keep families afloat, from extended unemployment benefits to stopping evictions. That's the right thing to do, for the individuals most affected by this crisis, and the economy.

But while we're doing that, we also need to be looking ahead.

How are we preparing people to not only ease back into work but hit the ground running with new skills that will land them better opportunities when the economy opens back up?

For long-term equitable economic recovery, we need more entry-level job training — and we need that even before those jobs are ready to be filled. We need to create opportunities for people with low incomes and people of color to access living-wage jobs in industries where career growth is possible.

In August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, while the unemployment rate for Black Americans was 13 percent. Nearly 40 percent of Black Americans work in jobs that put them at higher risk of being laid off, furloughed, or having their hours reduced — five points higher than their white counterparts, according to McKinsey.

Now is the time to advance an approach to workforce training that integrates employers with communities — and isn't contingent on job seekers having a college degree — enabling unemployed individuals to get back to work quickly, and in jobs with a future. It's already happening; we just need to expand those programs.

In cities across the country, nonprofits and businesses have joined together to conduct entry-level workforce trainings through initiatives like CareerWork$ that help graduates, communities, and employers succeed.

Created by the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, the national training program connects young adults from underserved communities with employers in banking and health care. For more than ten years, CareerWork$ has been providing placement assistance and ongoing coaching to give young adults the support they need for not only getting the job, but advancing in a career. CareerWork$ operates in thirteen cities across the country, forging alliances between local workforce development organizations, banks, and other financial institutions, as well as hospitals and healthcare partners.

Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc. (OIC), a local workforce development organization with deep experience in civil rights, administers BankWork$, a program within the CareerWork$ initiative, for individuals looking to pursue a career in the banking industry. It is one of many entry-level programs OIC provides to help people secure the jobs of today and tomorrow while promoting inclusive hiring within local communities.

The BankWork$ model involves employers right from the start. Employers who financially support the program are invited to present to students at the trainings and commit to attending hiring fairs at graduation. The model has built enduring neighborhood relationships that are good for communities and for employers working in those communities, especially communities of color.

The results are impressive. In Philadelphia, BankWork$ has an 81 percent graduation rate, a 74 percent placement rate, and has graduated more than a hundred and fifty young people since 2017. In cities like Seattle, BankWork$ graduates see an average wage increases of 134 percent in their first three years of work.

BankWork$ graduates are now working at over eighty banks across the country, including local branches operated by Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Univest, Key Bank, Citizens Bank, Santander Bank, and Fulton Bank. BankWork$ founding partners include Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

There was a time when "on-ramp" job programs like these received significant federal funding. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) enacted by Congress in the 1970s — and modeled on the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration — funded programs that provided entry-level training, but that kind of funding is increasingly scarce these days, and most federal funding in support of jobs programs is directed to apprenticeships and credentialed training.

The public, private, and nonprofit sectors need to do more to prepare the country for a post-pandemic recovery. It is imperative that foundations, corporations, and local governments step up to expand entry-level training models now, especially in communities where young adults lack access to career-building opportunities and where employers have positions waiting to be filled.

Imagine the impact if these kinds of training models were expanded across the country and we tripled, quadrupled, or even increased tenfold the number of people who graduate from such programs?

Everyone, not just the connected and privileged few, deserves an opportunity to be trained for a job with real career potential. Working together, we can provide such training. Our economy will be stronger on the other side of COVID, and we will all be the better for it.

Headshot_sherry_cromett_Renée Cardwell Hughes_philantopic Sherry Cromett joined the Biller Family Foundation in 2018 in the role of president of CareerWork$. Based in Seattle, she currently oversees the operation and expansion of the two CareerWork$ training programs, BankWork$ and CareerWork$ Medical, in thirteen markets across the country.

Renée Cardwell Hughes has extensive executive experience in the areas of strategy, leadership development, and change management. Prior to joining Philadelphia OIC as president and CEO, she was CEO of the Hughes Group, where she led a team of business advisors who helped employees, management, and boards internalize, own, and execute on their mission and values by revitalizing their corporate cultures.

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