More than 30 million people have filed unemployment claims since the coronavirus pandemic struck. Just in the last 90 days, 75% of young people of color have lost their jobs. In Insights Series I, we learned that they’ve been disproportionately impacted by layoffs, aren’t accessing public support they’re entitled to and are worried about their quality life, health and mental well-being. For the third installment, LeadersUp is examining how organizations that develop talent, such as community colleges, apprenticeship operators, community groups and workforce development agencies, have responded to challenges raised by the pandemic. Take our survey. It’s clearly not business as usual, according to early results.

COVID-19 has drastically reduced access to workforce development programs.

  • 80% of respondents said that critical workforce development programs that connect job seekers to employment are less accessible.

  • 75% said pre-employment and apprenticeship programs; and

  • 75% chose job readiness and soft skills training.

When asked about funding for job programs, 80% indicated they are worried.

Count among them Tammeil Gilkerson, president of Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, CA. She participated in the virtual roundtable “Reimaging Talent Development” with social policy and workforce experts, moderated by LeadersUp President and CEO Jeffery Wallace.

“We are absolutely underfunded in education,” said Gilkerson. “We are asked to do things and can’t get a dime for doing them. We need better partnerships with folks to understand how they can connect with us.”

Dr. Gary Painter, director of USC’s Sol Price Center for Social Innovation, and Julio Rodriguez, director of the Illinois Office of Employment and Training also took part in the discussion. Each panelist expressed concerns over racial and economic disparities deepening due to COVID-19 and the need for collaboration among the key stakeholders, which includes employers.

“We cannot change structural racism without collaboration,” Gilkerson said. “Seventy percent of all Black undergrads in California attend a community college first. We should be partnering together.”

Survey respondents ranked “employers” last when asked who is responsible for training our future workforce. In first place were high schools. Panelists emphasized that collaboration is key but is lacking.

“It’s not about just filling a job; it’s about building real talent,” said Rodriguez. “Employers have to be co-investors in that. The public system can’t do it alone.”

That employers came in last shows there’s a fundamental disconnect between the way systems and partners operate and the expectations of the labor market, Wallace said.

“Our perspective is there are a number of organizations across an ecosystem that should invest in next gen talent,” he added. “It’s a shared responsibility.”

70% of respondents indicated that discriminatory hiring practices by employers have had a “moderate” to “large” effect on employment for young adults of color.

Dr. Painter pointed out that in past economic recoveries, employers tend to become less inclusive.

“If we don’t understand why, we are going to face a recovery that will increase inequality,” he said, adding “it’s about equality of opportunity versus equality of outcomes.”
“Unless you believe in racial superiority, you can’t pull these apart,” he said. “Our north star is that there should be racial equality as it relates to outcomes in labor, the housing market, etc. So why is it the case that we see gaps widen and not shrink out of recessions? It’s because there is a racial wealth gap. The reason the digital divide exists is the racial wealth gap.”

Dr. Painter said disparities in arrests of Black people have reinforced stereotypes that make it difficult for Black people to get hired, retained and promoted through a strong career pathway.

“A 20-year-old Black person has already experienced the consequences of the racial wealth gap and income disparities,” he said.
Gilkerson said she hears from employers all the time who say they want to diversify. “They need to make sure they’re not creating spaces where diverse talent doesn’t feel welcome.”

Most of the respondents said more than half of their young adults lack consistent access to broadband internet or a personal computer.

  • 100% said their reliance on virtual solutions will increase as a direct result of COVID-19.

  • Additionally, 85% agreed that virtual talent development solutions and digital training would be very helpful to their organization.

Workforce systems were inadequately prepared to shift to digital, Rodriguez said. Insights Series II found that’s been a challenge for employers, too.

“Shifting away from brick and mortar to digital presents an opportunity to guide the workforce development ecosystem through a virtual delivery system,” Wallace said. “How do we equip the most marginalized communities with the skills they need to compete?”

Resilience around virtual talent solutions is a tremendous asset the sector needs right now, Wallace added. “We must ensure we have culturally competent assets that can be deployed at scale and with ease, and that we build a capacity of staff to shift to a blended learning model.”

Gilkerson talked specifically about the challenges of virtual learning for students who have suffered traumas. Panelists agreed that professional development for staff and faculty is imperative but, again, investment is lacking.

“Our faculty members are critical but they are experts in their field. That doesn’t mean they can deal with student traumas,” she said. “We have to invest in professional development. Colleges do not have money for professional development of faculty. We’re using CARES Act dollars, literally, to teach people how to use Zoom and get online.”

Professional development is two-pronged, Rodriguez said.

“The folks we serve and the folks who do the work. Education and workforce, they’re not two separate buckets. They’re the same. We need to build the infrastructure to support talent development.”

Under current funding, that’s not likely. Rodriguez used the example of a CEO of a major corporation who recently cut his salary by 50%. “Half his salary is the total I get for annual workforce investment from the federal government for all youth in the state of Illinois.”

For much of the roundtable, our guests focused on sharing solutions. Here are a few they mentioned:

  1. Move toward more competency-based hiring and away from job descriptions.

  2. There needs to be more collaboration between communities and employers. “It could be a game-changer if we could get industry to adopt some core competencies, not just for entry-level but throughout the process. Set clear targets around how to develop competencies in key areas.,” Rodriguez said.

  3. There needs to be more flexibility around the allocation of federal funds to support innovation.

  4. Get employers to invest in professional development. “My biggest fear is young people of color will lose the ability to reach out to people of color who’ve made it through the pathway and we will see a decline in young people being able to progress,” Rodriguez said.

  5. There’s an opportunity for public systems to work with industry and move the needle. Not just by hiring a certain number of diverse young adults but by establishing real metrics to show how that initial investment follows them through their careers.

  6. To deal with bias in hiring and recruitment, it’s time to hold employers to new standards and operationalize them to extract implicit bias from their talent acquisition strategies. “A significant portion of corporate America is standing with Black Lives Matter and advancing anti-racism,” Wallace said. “We must hold them accountable.”