Let’s assume that you, the reader, are one of three people:
- Through news, personal experience, or another avenue, you’ve noticed the drastic (and growing) economic disparities between hourly-wage workers and those who own capital (some asset, usually in the form of stock in a business or home equity). You may be unsure what to do to help, but you feel that something ought to change.
- You’re a business owner or manager and you’re having an awfully hard time hiring people, and you’re seeing that increasing wages or offering one-time bonuses just isn’t doing the trick.
- You work in the civic sector, and you’ve noticed that getting somebody an entry-level job is really no longer sufficient to get somebody out of poverty because capital is growing faster than wages, and the people you serve just seem to be getting further and further behind.
Ok, maybe you’re none of these three, but you simply care about growing economic inequality and you believe that something must be done. That’s where I was years ago when I discovered the field of workforce development. For me, workforce development sat between my interest in Christian cultural engagement through work and God’s ever-present concern for the vulnerable (James 5:4). It’s a field of wide-ranging interest in educating and training workers, that ranges from employee benefits to workplace learning programs to employee stock ownership programs.
I wrote on the topic in my 2018 Christianity Today article “God of the Second Shift” (and forthcoming book), but I’ve never provided a simple guide to introduce people to this industry. The reality is, before we take action in helping low-income workers, we must commit to first learning. Having put together this ten week “curriculum” for a friend recently, I now share it with you.
Before you begin, you should know that I think a variety of learning formats is the best way to really grow, including reading, listening, meeting with experts in person, and processing what you’ve learned with trusted friends. Also, a disclaimer: I’m a Denverite, so I’ll drop some names on here who I think are particularly knowledgeable about this topic. If you don’t know them yet, I encourage you to offer to buy them lunch. If you’re out of town, reach out on LinkedIn to see if they’ll do a call.
So, grab a friend, put some 30-minute blocks on the calendar for discussion, and commit to getting smarter about the most important social issue of our time: the plight of our world’s workers.
How to Get Smart About Workforce Development in 10 Weeks
READ: God of the Second Shift, Christianity Today cover story, by Jeff Haanen. This article is an introduction to workforce development from the perspective of yours truly.
LISTEN: “The Good Jobs Advantage,” by Jeff Haanen. In this 15-minute talk, I give an overview to why I believe a good job can be transformative not only for the employee, but also a competitive advantage for a business.
READ: The Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #1 by Steven Dawson. Workforce development expert Steven Dawson gives an overview to why we need a “better jobs strategy” to really roll back poverty in the US.
MEET: Dan Kaskubar. Dan is a friend, consultant, and former COO at Activate Workforce Solutions. He’s worked with businesses to serve their frontline workers and seen transformative impact. Well worth picking his brain over coffee or a call.
READ: The Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #3 by Steven Dawson. In this paper, Dawson makes the case that if you really want to see big change, we’ll need engagement from both business and nonprofits/governments.
LISTEN: Why it Pays to Raise Pay, by Adam Grant. Might it actually be more profitable long-term to raise the pay of your lowest paid workers? Best-selling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant believes so.
READ: Pinkerton Papers, Job Quality Series, #6 by Steven Dawson. In a tight labor market, now even more than before the pandemic, Dawson argues we need to build alliances between employers and workforce development practitioners.
MEET:Julie Stone. She is the expert on family and worker economic mobility in Denver. Learn from her over lunch or a call, and hear her insights into the critical gap between a starting, hourly wage and an income that could actually support a family.
READ: Top Ten Job Quality Resources, by Steven Dawson. This is an incredible overview to the organizations and best resources on workforce development in the US today, both for employers and civic organizations.
LISTEN: Light listening this week! Just listen to these testimonials of people who got a good job, and how it changed their lives. We at DIFW made this video for an event on this years ago.
READ: “The Good Jobs Strategy” Harvard Business Review, by MIT Professor Zeynep Ton. (And peruse this website.) There’s a way to better your competitors and provide higher paying jobs: the secret is in product selection, operations, and culture…
LISTEN: “The Four Qualities of a Just Leader” by David Spickard. What does it mean to be “just” in a position of influence? Look no further. This podcast by former Jobs for Life CEO David Spickard is tops.
READ: “Building from the Bottom Up.” Here’s an HBS report on how businesses can better uplift and give opportunity to low-income workers. Crunched on time? Skip to page 82 and just take action on these bullet points.
LISTEN: Hardly Working by Brent Orrell at the American Enterprise Institute. This intro podcast is a good place to start on how Brent and his team at AEI think about vocation, career, work and poverty alleviation. Really, anything he writes is worth reading.
READ: “Employer Resource Networks.” The Employer Resource Network (ERN) is “an innovative model through which local networks of employers collectively provide work support services to their entry-level workforces, with the goal of enhancing productivity and retention.” Well worth learning about. (The ROI for businesses is really quite astounding.)
LISTEN: Here’s a short video of Karla Nugent, the Chief Business Development Officer at Weifield Group. She’s innovated an apprenticeship program at her business for those coming out of poverty. She offers an incredible example of risk-taking that ultimately just looks like good business.
READ: “The Company of Second Chances,” Wall Street Journal. An incredible story of a faith-motivated company, Nehemiah Manufacturing, and their work employing those with a criminal past.
MEET: Zoe Schlag. Zoe is doing innovative work on Employee Ownership Trusts and how they can be both a viable exit plan for business owners and a transformative ownership opportunity for workers.
READ: “KKR to Sell CHI Overhead Doors to Nucor, Generating Windfall for Itself and Employees,” Wall Street Journal. What if when a business sells to a huge private equity firm…the workers, not just management, got a windfall? It’s happening.
WATCH: Watch one of these case studies on how employee ownership can have transformative impact for both the bottom line and for workers.
REFLECT: Now that you’ve take some time to learn about business’s most important asset – its people – write down at least three takeaways that will influence your work. Then share those insights with a friend, family member or co-worker.
Not sure where to start? But interested in taking action on transforming the lives and families of your company’s workers? Reach out to schedule a call.
Photo Credit: CHI’s Hourly Workers