[caption id="attachment_232399" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] A new report on diversity, equity and inclusion in workforce training programs found that more can be done in Delaware to reach underrepresented communities. | Photo byCytonn PhotographyonUnsplash[/caption]
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”It may be one of the most-recognizable proverbs in history and, frankly, the basis of much of today’s conservative movement against the “welfare state.” Anyone who has built a career or worked his or her way up the corporate ladder can appreciate the wisdom in the words.
[caption id="attachment_222223" align="alignright" width="300"] Jacob Owens Editor Delaware Business Times[/caption]
There is one wrinkle to the proverb, however, and one that can impact multiple generations of people long after we’re gone: Who we choose to teach.From America’s history of slavery to Jim Crow laws to institutional racism, the troubling reality is that people of color have been less likely to receive the kind of job training that could change their circumstances and produce generational wealth for their families. After the murder of George Floyd and the overdue reckoning with diversity, equity and inclusion in our boardrooms and workforces though, the question remained: Are we doing enough to offer equitable opportunity?The United Way of Delaware (UWDE) and the Delaware Racial Justice Collaborative (DRJC) recently published an comprehensive report completed by the Urban Institute, a D.C.-based think tank that conducts economic and social policy research, on the state’s workforce development programs and how they address racial equity.The researchers compiled a database of 147 workforce programs around the state and surveyed them on their operations and tracked metrics. Those programs ranged from education programs like Delaware Pathways and the Skills Center to coding bootcamps like Code Differently and Tech Impact to nonprofits like Goodwill, YWCA and the Food Bank.The researchers also interviewed nearly two dozen workforce development leaders around the state about their organizations and opinions of the state of training here.What they discovered is an ecosystem where most recognize the importance of diversity and make it part of their outreach, but few formally assess racial equity in program retention and completion. They also noted that data is insufficient for their needs or difficult to access.Lack of access to data is not a small concern, because it also puts programs at risk of missing additional funding that could expand or maintain services. Whether a government agency or a charitable fund, anyone allocating dollars for a cause wants to see metrics showing whether an investment was worthwhile.Interviewees noted that they don’t currently have access to Delaware Department of Labor wage records and resort to surveying past participants to track career and wage growth from its program graduates. Greater integration of data with approved training programs could yield a better look at effectiveness.The Urban Institute also offered the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Uniform Report Card as an example of how the state government could play a bigger role in tracking racial equity in job training. The Minnesota department reviews results annually from a few dozen statewide job training programs and issues a public grade for their DE&I efforts, giving the public feedback on their effectiveness and the nonprofits a roadmap on how to improve.How we reach prospects could also improve in the First State.Of those responding to the Urban Institute survey, half or fewer of respondents recruited from churches, social institutions, secondary schools, or post-secondary institutions that predominantly serve historically marginalized communities. Many interviewees said that they rely on digital advertising and social media to reach targeted communities, including using geolocated marketing and advertising in zip codes of interest.While technology has become an invaluable tool for outreach, nothing is better than face-to-face interaction. The Urban Institute researchers noted that overemphasis on tech tools to reach clients risked missing less technologically savvy users who could most benefit from a workforce development program.The organizations themselves could also do more to set the expectation for racial equity, as nearly a third of survey respondents don’t mention it in their mission or strategy. Furthermore, less than a third of respondents ensured that at least half of organization leaders were people of color, offered staff training on structural racism or systemic bias, or developed recruiting strategies for diversity of their board of directors.The reality is that many of our largest workforce development organizations are run by white leaders, and their understanding of circumstances and realities of our communities of color will be different than those who come from them. To ensure that we’re meeting the needs of those on the ground, we need to be intentional about the standards we set.Employers can also be more intentional in their diversity goals and cultivating relationships with training programs with specific goals. Less than half of the survey respondents said they were doing so today. While it seems that DE&I has faded a bit from the public conversation in the years after 2020, the needs are as ever-present as ever. By setting headcount targets, position expectations and pathways to career mobility, employers can help ensure that their workforces are stronger and training programs are finding success.Finally, the report outlined how local and state governments could be better proponents of change that all want to see. Some criticized a weak mission strategy on DE&I for the state government – the largest employer in Delaware – and noted that moving more jobs to a skill-based requirement rather than a degree-based one could open more opportunities for people of color in the thousands of open positions.Government can also help to break down barriers to job training, like clearing driver’s license suspensions, reducing burdensome fines and fees, and making public transportation more affordable, perhaps with a discounted or free transit pass for those in approved programs.The good news is that there are many in Delaware who are working to diversify opportunities for our workforce, but more can be done.
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