For nearly 35 years, the Boston nonprofit Jobs for the Future has been working to help underserved populations improve their employment prospects by boosting education and training. Through its research, policy, and advocacy work, Jobs for the Future has helped pioneer initiatives such as early-college high schools — more than 280 associated with the effort now exist nationwide, including in Marlborough, Lawrence, and Charlestown — that enable students to attend community college classes and graduate with a diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time. The nonprofit also partners with ed tech companies to promote products such as a text-based “nudging” initiative that sends personalized messages encouraging students studying science, technology, engineering, and math — where jobs are in high demand — to meet with their professors and enroll in classes. We spoke with president Maria Flynn recently about the growing importance of apprenticeships and post-secondary credentials, and the influence Flynn’s college-dropout father had on her career.
1. As jobs become increasingly specialized, and technology expands into nearly every aspect of employment, apprenticeships are becoming a crucial way for everyone from electricians to financial service workers to get the skills they need to succeed in the labor force. The US Department of Labor last month announced the creation of a task force to promote and expand apprenticeships, and last week, Jobs for the Future launched an online Center for Apprenticeships and Work-Based Learning to support and develop more on-the-job training, including via virtual reality.
“The more that students and workers can learn within the context of a job, the more effective that is for their success.”
2. Getting employers to train and support their current workforce, instead of simply recruiting new talent, is key, Flynn said. But the growing ranks of temporary and contract workers, many of them on the lower end of the income scale, often aren’t given these kinds of opportunities.
“We’ve already as a country not been great about employers investing in their entry-level workers. If you remove that employer-employee relationship, I worry that the folks that are already being left behind in the economy are at risk of being left further behind.”
3. As much as President Trump has trumpeted his devotion to the working class, his administration has continued the trend of reducing federal investments in the workforce. Trump’s 2018 budget proposed cuts to workforce development, adult education, and career and technical training.
“Making cuts at a time when our nation is in dire need of skilled workers is not the right approach. At a time when we really need to be thinking seriously about a jobs strategy for the US, the signals that the administration is sending around level of funding don’t equate.”
4. Jobs for the Future works with community colleges to make sure schools are teaching skills that are in demand in the workforce, including technical skills that evolve quickly.
“How can we find ways to really make that feedback loop between employers’ changing skill needs and training-provider curriculum faster? [Are there] ways to help an individual gain those specific skills they need? Not necessarily a two-year associates’ degree or even a 12-month certification, but are there pinpoint solutions that can be developed to help with skill augmentation?”
5. Her father’s efforts to create a better life for himself and his family inspired Flynn to provide more opportunities for others to do the same. After dropping out of college when he was young, her father went back to school to get his associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees while working and raising four children, and then got into the workforce development field.
“He was actually working a couple jobs, getting his degrees at night, and putting my brothers through college at the same time. Watching that unfold made a big impression on me.”Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.