The first Solving from Anywhere webinar kicked off on June 23 with an animated and inspiring discussion on accelerating pathways to employment for underserved communities across the US. Panelists Carrie Morgridge, Vice President and Chief Disruptor, Morgridge Family Foundation; Dr. Angela Jackson, Partner, Earn to Learn Fund, New Profit; David Hall, Managing Partner, Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Revolution; and Dr. Garry Cooper, CEO, Solver Rheaply each brought an engaging, unique perspective to the conversation, which was moderated by Hala Hanna, Managing Director, Community, MIT Solve.
To hear the full conversation, watch the webinar recording.
“The synergy is there and the time is now”
In partnership with the Morgridge Family Foundation and New Profit, Solve launched the Reimagining Pathways to Employment in the US Challenge on June 22. With Covid-19 and the resulting economic downturn’s toll on employment, more than 20 million underskilled Americans are searching for ways to land secure jobs with upward mobility potential.
“This is an amazing time where I think we can break barriers and invent something new because everybody is hungry for it. And this conversation starts today at MIT,” said Morgridge. “Let’s focus on what’s working, what’s best for America, and let’s put Americans back to work and let them reach their full human potential. The synergy is there and the time is now.”
Jackson added, “I’m so excited about the partnership with Solve [because] we are trying to look at overlooked talent, overlooked regions and small cities. Still, there is a great divide and people are suffering—but there’s no shortage of ideas.”
“Learn and earn at the same time”
Education has long been believed to be the key to social and economic mobility. But, given the immediate need for more than 40 million unemployed Americans to upskill, Hall, a venture capitalist, remarked that the more acute challenge right now is getting people back to work, arguing, “That comes through creating new paradigms for workers to look at life a little differently.”
“We should start to remove the box-checking for jobs that require a four-year bachelor’s degree,” Hall added. “When there’s an experiential component that’s highly teachable and learnable, on-the-job training or the old-time apprenticeship model could be more efficient [than classroom education] in accelerating employment pathways.”
To complement Hall’s opinion, Morgridge highlighted technical education that’s already being deployed: “Verizon is doing a great job working with Merit America to open up jobs that four-year college applicants aren’t taking—but that have huge upward mobility and require only a six- to eight-week technical program. There are lots of things out there, and we need to have a million of these conversations.”
“I say take the future of work and make it the present of work,” Jackson declared. “Think about how we give people access to new skills and better information, and how they’re able to learn and earn at the same time.”
In California, Jackson continued, many people who are incarcerated help to fight forest fires, but they aren’t able to get jobs at fire departments upon release. “So, we set up a program to help these individuals get jobs and make regular wages doing the same type of work,” she said. “People have skills, and we are helping them translate their skills into new opportunities.”
“Workforce development is everybody’s job”
There’s no question the current racial equality movement in America is shaping the future of work. But Hall believes the recent protests have broadened the scope of conversation from contending with police brutality into greater demand for purposeful public-private partnerships.
“These problems are not to be borne by corporations, policymakers, or the business community alone. Workforce development is everybody’s job,” Hall said. “The biggest thing we should safeguard against is making sure the diversity and inclusion lens is consistently widened. And that’s only when more women and people of color are at the problem-solving table leading these conversations.”
Adding to Hall’s point, Morgridge called on philanthropists to take action: “It’s not up to the government to solve our problems.” She continued, “For those of us who have a little extra jingle in our pocket, this is the time to use that jingle to effect positive changes. Once you’ve proved it works, the government can come in and make it sustainable forever.”
“The definition of minority business needs updating”
Garry Cooper, who leads the Solver team Rheaply, took the last question of the day: How can we build supplier diversity in the manufacturing field?
“The definition of minority business needs updating,” he explained.
An African American startup founder, Cooper noted he recently published an article in Forbes discussing how minority business owners are left out, because “participation in supplier diversity programs requires MBE [Minority Business Enterprise] certification, which is currently too narrowly defined,” even though the MBE program intends to mitigate systemic racial barriers.
Beyond that, he said, “We need a thousand ideas, and we need to try them all to build more resilience in our small business community, [in] which there are many minorities.”
In the end, Hall concluded, we can start by focusing on small things: “As we are talking about starting big and thinking big, I think there’s something sweet about starting small, like hiring an intern of color. We should make sure our doors are open and tax ourselves to look for people different from us.”
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Solve intern Muyang Zhou contributed to this article.
David Hall, Hala Hanna, Angela Jackson, and Carrie Morgridge speak during the Solving from Anywhere webinar “The Future of Work: Accelerating Pathways to Employment for Underserved Communities across the US” on June 23, 2020.