Secretary Gina Raimondo
United States Secretary of Commerce
“America needs to be more globally competitive and a core piece of that is talent. In order to enhance our business competitiveness, we need to lean into our workforce development.”
Leaders in the public and private sectors have been trying to plan the future of America’s workforce for decades. Covid-19 certainly complicated matters.
Big new questions have arisen: Where can workers be found? Will they ever show up? What can be done to entice employees to come back?
Enter: The Workforce. Punchbowl News’ effort to identify four leaders who are focused on leading the country back to economic stability and ensuring that there is a well-prepared workforce that will allow America to remain competitive. This week we are profiling Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
Raimondo has long been known for her workforce efforts as Rhode Island governor. But the Smithfield, R.I., native's first experience with the challenges of education, training and employment goes back much further. When Raimondo was young, her father taught night school to make ends meet. “I remember staying up late at night for him to come home because he'd come home, eat his dinner, rush out, do a second job and get home at like 10 or 11 at night,” Raimondo said. Her father, Joseph, regaled her with stories about his chemistry students. “He would say, ‘You know, listen Gina, these people are smart and hungry and they just need skills," she recalled.
Those words stuck with Raimondo. When she became the state's first female governor in 2015, Rhode Island had the nation's highest unemployment rate. "At the time, Rhode Island was spending tens of millions of dollars on totally ineffective workforce development training because it was detached from the skills businesses needed and would hire,” Raimondo said. “So we turned the whole model upside down. We focused more heavily on apprenticeships and business engagement. We brought businesses to the table in a real way." The goal: create a system that would prepare job seekers for available positions immediately after they finished training.
She also worked to cut taxes, reduce regulations and create the largest infrastructure program in the state's history. Under her leadership, Rhode Island community colleges became tuition-free.
In 2020 with Covid raging, Raimondo announced a $45 million investment to create jobs for thousands of state residents out of work due to the public health crisis. The program “Back to Work Rhode Island” worked closely with private sector companies -- including Bank of America, Microsoft and Salesforce -- to find opportunities for people who had lost their jobs.
Rhode Island Unemployment Rate, 2015-2020
As Commerce secretary, Raimondo is trying to change the way the government mobilizes around workforce development. She’s working directly with Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to “break down the silos between our departments.” For Raimondo, understanding what jobs businesses are committed to hiring for is the key. “It’s a waste of money to train people for jobs that don’t exist,” Raimondo said. “These things only work if businesses step up from day one and commit to hiring, because once you get them on the hook to commit to hiring ... then they will pay attention to the skills that these people are being trained for because it’s in their business interest.”
There is no one solution. The labor shortage is a serious issue. It's core to the lack of equity in America and core to our lack of competitiveness and this is an all-hands on deck effort that we all need to participate in.
– Sec. Gina Raimondo, United States Secretary of Commerce
As she looks at the challenges related to America’s global competitiveness, Raimondo is focused on making sure there is enough talent with modern skills for the digital economy. Part of that is reshaping the way businesses review job candidates. Her push: for the private sector to be more inclusive of employment seekers re-entering the workforce after having children or for those who have formerly been incarcerated. “To be clear, this is a sea change in the way education will be done, in the way job training will be done, in the way hiring will be done,” Raimondo said, “But it’s necessary if women and people of color are going to have a chance at getting decent and high paying jobs.” She added, “And frankly it’s necessary for businesses to be productive because right now businesses aren’t growing at the rate they need to be growing, because they can’t hire at the rate they need.”
PEOPLE TO WATCH
VIRGINIA DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN
Rep. Bobby Scott has been involved in workforce issues since he was first elected to office in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1977. As chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, he has continued to lend his voice on these issues. In January, he introduced the Relaunching America’s Workforce Act that included billions in spending for career training programs for unemployed adults and students. And as the Biden administration looks to inject tens of millions of dollars into transforming America’s workforce for the next generation, Scott has been at the forefront of leading that effort on Capitol Hill. Read more about Rep. Bobby Scott.
president of the Service Employees International Union
Mary Kay Henry
Henry is the first woman president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents two million members in the service industry. During her time at SEIU, Henry has focused on improving jobs for workers in the health care, property services and public sectors. She has also backed workers in the fast-food industry for their “Fight for $15 and a Union” movement. Throughout the pandemic, Henry has pushed for caregivers to qualify as essential workers. Over the summer, SEIU organized forums for six weeks in nearly two dozen states to lobby members of Congress to back President Joe Biden’s significant increase in spending to support home care workers.
FOUNDER & CEO YEAR UP
Chertavian founded Year Up, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making sure young people have the skills, experiences and support to reach their full potential in their careers and higher education. Founded in 2000, Year Up has an annual operating budget of more than $170 million. Chertavian has a long history of working with underserved youth through the Big Brother mentoring program and has also served on the Massachusetts State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Raimondo is urging increased investment in apprenticeships and job training. That pipeline is key for the business community to have enough skilled workers — in areas such as data analysis and software engineering — to accommodate growth. “You want to have enough labor and make sure it’s not just white guys,” Raimondo said, considering that the majority of people entering the workforce seeking tech and digital jobs will be women and largely non-white in the next 10 years. "It's really heartbreaking for me to see women, women of color especially, concentrated so heavily in the lowest paying, most back-breaking work, like in the care economy. There's no need for it. And the thing is, if we could just help these women to get access to the job training they need, the support they need, they could get these higher paying jobs and be great at it."
Raimondo is also focused on making sure women have access to childcare and transportation in order to compete for those higher-paying jobs. “If you really want to be able to unleash the creative and productive potential of half of America's workforce, which is women, we need to invest in childcare. Period,” Raimondo stated. The last word: “Any time you have to disrupt the status quo, it's really hard. Change is hard and this is easy to say and hard to do. But it's worth it,” she said.
Populations Served through Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Training Programs 2019
Source: U.S. Department of Labor