I was honored to represent WOW at meeting with Secretary of Labor Tom Perez this past week, along with twenty other partner organizations. Our conversation centered on improving our country’s workforce development system and ensuring equal opportunities for all Americans to earn the skills they need to succeed in today’s economy. Secretary Perez echoed the president’s support, voiced in his State of the Union address, for training programs outside of four-year degree programs. Attendees concurred that it was exciting to see job training being elevated in public discussions as a means to achieving economic security.
The Secretary shared the administration’s vision for creating a dynamic workforce development system, highlighting the following five goals:
- Sustaining and expanding industry partnerships, and strengthening the collaboration between the DOL and the Dept of Commerce;
- Achieving synergy between the many job training programs and agencies that administer them and “imploding the stovepipe”;
- Improving quality control in programs;
- Spurring innovation, flexibility and experimentation to see what works – including looking at how to utilize emerging technology and building a stronger apprenticeship system; and
- Showcasing promising practices and establishing some common performance measures.
I shared that my own career benefited from both apprenticeship training and the Department of Labor’s affirmative action enforcement. I thanked the Secretary for his commitment to apprenticeship and long history working for civil rights. During our discussion of the Secretary’s goals, I chimed in to point out that another key plank of the President’s State of the Union was addressing women’s economic equity and moving policies for women in the workplace into the 21st century. I urged the Secretary and the Department to marry the two focal points in the State of the Union, since a workforce development system that perpetuates occupational segregation by gender (and see our previous blogs that demonstrate significant evidence of this) won’t address the persistent wage gap women face. As I moved to share our recommendations for creating a dynamic job training system that also works for women, Sec’y Perez nodded eagerly and said, “Oh, good, was just going to ask how we do that”.
I proposed the following five point plan:
- Establishing goals for women’s participation in job training for high-skill, high-wage jobs in male-dominated sectors and increasing and enforcing the existing goals for industry partners and apprenticeship programs for women’s inclusion and equitable treatment;
- Using administrative guidance and technical assistance like WOW has been offering in our GreenWays Initiative with Jobs for the Future to help job training programs and the workforce systems build their capacity to meet goals;
- Expanding funding for women’s training for nontraditional occupations. There are several dedicated multi-million dollar programs to support training for youth, ex-offenders, and veterans, but only one, with less than $1 M, for women;
- Data collection to let us know how we are doing in moving the needle; and
- Creating a “Concrete Floor” Commission to set an annual agenda, oversee programming for women, benchmark progress and focus public attention on this issue.
The Secretary closed the meeting, reflecting on our nearly two-hour conversation, and outlining nine takeaways and questions he wanted us to answer for him. Concerned that not one of these questions addressed women, I shot him a worried look. Ending the meeting on a great note for women in non-traditional occupations and assuaging my fears, Secretary Perez announced he’d taken copious notes on my recommendations and appreciated having such a specific plan to which he can respond.
But, it didn’t end there. Our recommendations grabbed the attention of other invitees to the meeting, including the National Urban League’s President Marc Morial, who said the issue of women also “piqued his attention” since a majority of the clients they serve in their nearly 100 job training programs across the country are women. Leaders from the National Association of Workforce Boards, the National League of Cities, the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, and National Economic Council at The White House, each came up to me to express interest in pursuing the issue with WOW further. We’ve got a lot of work ahead to follow up with the Secretary and these organizations, but we’re happy to have the opportunity to advance our agenda for women in nontraditional occupations!