To facilitate economic recovery and redesign in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions has received a new $1.25 million grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. The new grant will support workers in gaining in-demand skills, improve the quality of jobs, and help businesses develop talent pipelines to get people back to work amid new economic conditions.
Millions in the United States lack access to the technology that now drives our socially- and physically-distanced lives. Too many jobs now deemed "essential" lack the basic benefits, resources, and equipment that workers need to be safe, healthy, and thrive. Across the country, COVID-19 is exposing cracks in the American workforce system.
The pandemic is shifting our lives increasingly online, but virtual working, learning, and job-seeking platforms do not accommodate everyone. Almost half of low-income adults do not have home broadband services or access to a traditional computer. People with digital literacy and access are at a significant advantage. This new grant will equip job seekers and workers with the digital skills and literacy to ensure they are competitive in a rapidly changing workforce.
"The digital divide in this country falls sharply along racial lines," said Amanda Cage, president and CEO of the National Fund. "With people of color already bearing more of the burden of coronavirus, their lack of digital access means they will fall farther behind as we move through crisis into recovery."
To ensure the better post-pandemic outcomes for these workers, job coaches and others responsible for retaining employees must also be equipped to support job seekers and workers in a changed environment, and this grant will help job coaches acquire those skills—including how to deal with trauma. Workers returning to the workforce are doing so after exposure to the traumatic experience of COVID-19, among any other traumas they may have faced.
"This pandemic is deeply impacting our mental and emotional health, as well as putting centuries of inequities on full display," said the National Fund's Janell Thomas, who will lead this project. "We need workplaces to institutionalize equity, incorporate trauma-informed practices and provide resources to address the inequities and trauma that low-wage workers are experiencing. These workers are starting at a disadvantage and their job performance is often negatively impacted as a result."
The National Fund will select five partner communities in its network to conduct these activities to help employers and employees navigate a new landscape of work and redesign a more equitable, post-pandemic economy.
The investment from the Weinberg Foundation will also support the potential development of two additional National Fund network sites in Hawaii and Northeastern Pennsylvania.