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Meeting of 4-5-17 EEOC to Examine the State of the Workforce and the Future of Work

Written Testimony of Mason Bishop
Principal, WorkED Consulting, LLC

Acting Chair Lipnic and members of the Commission, thank you for the opportunity to present my thoughts on the "state of the workforce and the future of work." As we have seen from numerous reports in the media, the issue of employment, the skills and education needed for careers, and ensuring equal access to education, training, and jobs is at the forefront of the policy focus and initiatives in Washington, DC and across the country. My views are based on a nearly 20-year career in workforce development and higher education, and recent work in partnership with community colleges, private employers, and state workforce and education agencies.

A year ago, I was hired by Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, to develop and write a grant application to the U.S. Department of Labor for the TechHire program. The purpose of the TechHire grant opportunity was to "equip individuals with the skills they need through innovative approaches that can rapidly train workers for and connect them to well-paying, middle- and high-skilled, and high-growth jobs across a diversity of industries such as Information Technology (IT), healthcare, advanced manufacturing, financial services, and broadband."

In developing Pellissippi's TechHire project design and looking at both employment and enrollment data, we found some important information:

  • According to a report by JPMorgan Chase titled, "Tech Jobs for All?", page 14: The tech training world is overwhelmingly male and white. A survey from Course Report found that 63 percent of graduates in 2014 were male and a similar percentage were white. Furthermore, the pipeline for many of the top jobs go through 30 elite and highly selective universities, which have diversity problems of their own, exacerbating the problem. Minorities or women looking to enter the field face the challenge of working with a limited network to find a job and may feel intimidated or isolated in the workforce when hired."
  • Minorities were underrepresented in Pellissippi's education and training programs. Pellissippi's four-year rate of success for underrepresented minorities, including African American males who completed an associate's degree, was approximately 15 percent. The retention rate for underrepresented minorities was 39 percent, trailing significantly behind White students.
  • Unemployment rates and poverty rates for African Americans and Hispanics in the greater Knoxville area were higher than for Whites.

As a result of this data, Pellissippi decided to focus its project on serving underrepresented minorities in the fields of information technology and advanced manufacturing. The Knoxville Area Information Technology and Engineering (KITE) program specifically targets underrepresented populations, including African American and other minority young adults, in obtaining the industry-recognized credentials and degrees necessary to obtain high-wage, in-demand tech careers. Under KITE, employers and other partners prepare participants for appropriate education, training and careers through: (1) targeted outreach and assessment with community partners and the local workforce investment board (WIB), (2) rapid math improvements and appropriate training options, and (3) work-based learning, such as paid internships and on-the-job training (OJT).

I want to specifically highlight the community partnerships embedded in the KITE program. Too often, employment and training organizations do not reach, and effectively recruit, minority students into programs, and thus institutional barriers to economic opportunity and upward mobility continue to persist. I worked with Pellissippi to develop a program design that engaged and funded community partners to recruit and enroll minority students.

KnoxWorx, is a nonprofit, workforce development initiative of the Knoxville Leadership Foundation (KLF). The KLF is a faith and community-based organization dedicated to reconciling the challenges people face and connecting "communities of resource with communities of need." KLF has served more than 30,000 individuals, and partners with more than 200 organizations, including the juvenile court system, workforce development, employers, and public services providers. As a key partner in the community, KnoxWorx is recruiting, assessing, and providing case management services for 100 young adults over the life of KITE. Unemployed, minority young adults are receiving priority for enrollment.

The Knoxville Area Urban League (KAUL), which served more than 8,400 individuals and families in 2015, CONNECT Ministries, which has over 50 community partners, and Project GRAD Knoxville (GRAD), which provides a range of supportive services to more than 7,000 K-16 participants annually are each recruiting participants and providing participant services.

These community partnerships will be critical as Pellissippi seeks to provide equal access and opportunity to underrepresented populations through the KITE program. In addition to these partnerships, the KITE program has implemented a number of other important components that are representative of national trends in workforce development and training:

  • Industry-recognized Credentials: Many national industry associations have employer and industry recognized credentials. Mr. Montez King will be discussing the work of one of the leading national industry associations-the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS). Community colleges and other training providers are working with national industry associations to embed these credentials into their curriculum. For example, a student working toward an associate's degree in machining/manufacturing can also get NIMS credentials as part of their education portfolio. These leads to more opportunities in the workforce as it speaks to employers regarding an individual's skills and competencies.
  • Competency-based Education: In today's workplace, employers care more about what someone GETS DONE, versus HOW MUCH TIME it takes to accomplish tasks. To align with this reality, innovation in training delivery demands that student progress be measured through demonstration of learning, rather than time spent in class. As part of this effort, many community colleges are implementing articulation options, so if a student completes a non-credit training program, that effort can convert to college credit through a recognized and credible methodology for articulating skills to credits.
  • "Earn and Learn": Networking is critical in today's economic, and many underrepresented populations lack opportunities to connect with employers and gain exposure to workplaces and job opportunities. The KITE program utilizes internships as a key feature to place students with employers and gain valuable work experience while training. Registered apprenticeships are another means to gain valuable work skills combined with training. With both internships and apprenticeships, not only is exposure to the workplace made available, but students gain important opportunities to earn while learning, thus helping those in poverty, in particular, in both the short- and long-term.

A critical and sharp focus on helping all young adults and non-traditional, older adult students access training programs like KITE, and its features and components, will help ensure we build economic vitality in all of our communities across the United States. We must remain committed to continually ensuring and promoting equal access to education and training opportunities, including new apprenticeship programs, that lead to good jobs, lift people out of poverty, and promote upward mobility. I appreciate the EEOC's focus on this important work, and thank the Commission for the opportunity to participate in the hearing.