Access – For All – to 21st Century Jobs
With the technology/telecom industry as the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy that provides a host of job opportunities from entry-level positions to professional and senior leadership, it is imperative that African Americans and urban communities are fully empowered and prepared to participate in this sector.
The newly enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) provides a federal workforce development framework that places high emphasis on preparing our workforce with the skills necessary to meet the needs of in-demand industry sectors and occupations – such as the technology/telecom industry. WIOA calls for a seamless collaboration of the business/industry sector, labor, private non-profits, and public education and workforce training programs to connect individuals who are under- and unemployed to the needs of local and regional industries.
The public and private sectors, entrepreneurs and community based organizations can address the 21st Century skills challenge by leveraging the benefits of the Internet and technology to assure equal access by African Americans and urban communities to the jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities available in this sector of our economy.
- While the national unemployment rate stood at a declining rate of 5.9% in September, the Black rate remains over twice the national rate in double digits at 11%. For Hispanics, the rate stood above the national rate at 6.9%.[i]
- For the African American community, long-term unemployment is at crisis proportions where, as of April of this year, 42.9% of unemployed blacks had been out of work for at least 6 months.[ii]
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2012 and 2022, 1.3 million jobs in computer and mathematical occupations will need to be filled from new job growth and replacement needs; but without serious growth in the number of people with information technology (IT) skills, it is unlikely that American workers will meet that demand.[iii]
- When we look at the major tech companies that have released their diversity numbers, we find that on average African Americans and Hispanics comprise only about 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively, of the tech workforce.[iv]
- In the U.S. alone, increased technology adoption by small business enterprises was calculated to have the potential to increase small business revenue by $360 billion and add more than two million jobs.[v]
The National Urban League Runs Signature Programs in Workforce Training that Address these Challenges
- Urban Youth Empowerment Program (UYEP): Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers at-risk, adjudicated youths a comprehensive workforce development program and substantive opportunities to become engaged citizens through personalized education, career development, and service learning opportunities. In 2013, the Urban Youth Empowerment Program provided case management, mentoring, internships, education and on-the-job training for nearly 2000 youths in 21 Urban League affiliates.
- Training to Work (T2W): Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers workforce development and training services to previously incarcerated individuals so that they can successfully re-enter the labor market. Takes a “skills-based” training approach tailored to the needs of employers and clients, supporting individuals through the attainment of industry-recognized credentials, graduate equivalency diploma, and the pursuit of higher education. To date, 408 participants have been served: 202 job placements; 78 obtained certificates; 69 entered post-secondary education; average wage $8/hour.
- Mature Worker Program (MWP): Authorized by the Older Americans Act, this program provides subsidized, service-based training for low-income persons 55 or older who are unemployed and committed to finding employment opportunities. In 2013, the MWP provided subsidized service-based on-the-job training for more than 1,000 unemployed people over age 55.
Making our Workforce Development System Work for Every American
The newly enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)’s stated purpose is to increase access to, and opportunities for, the employment, education, training, and support services that individuals – particularly those individuals with barriers to employment – need to succeed in the labor market. WIOA places emphasis on leveraging resources to provide America’s workers with the skills and credentials necessary to secure and advance in employment with family-sustaining wages, as well as providing America’s employers with the skilled workers the employers need to succeed in a global economy. This is especially urgent for the tech sector.
Through its various programs and well-targeted policies, a fully funded and implemented WIOA can effectively prepare the 21 million Americans served every year by our federal employment and training programs to fill the skills gap in our various industry sectors, particularly in the tech sector where there exists hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions.[vi]
The National Urban League worked tirelessly to ensure that youthful offenders and high school dropouts were never forgotten throughout the arduous 11-year-plus legislative process that led to the enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Our efforts led to the introduction of the Urban Jobs Act that was used as a key vehicle to influence the youth provisions of the WIOA and to advance the role of national community-based organizations and local intermediaries as eligible service providers. The National Urban League and the Urban League affiliate movement’s advocacy work on the Urban Jobs Act were the impetus for many of the local youth provisions that are now included in the WIOA, especially the heightened priority on out-of-school youth where funding for services to such youth is increased from 30% to a high of 75%.
In addition, we successfully advocated for WIOA’s extensive emphasis on meeting the needs of individuals with multiple barriers to employment, including ex-offenders, youth who are in or have aged out of the foster care system, older individuals aged 55 and over, and the long-term unemployed.
With the numerous benefits and opportunities created by technology and the Internet, the National Urban League has been a strong supporter of ubiquitous broadband adoption. The Urban League continues to advocate in Congress and the at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the expansion of the Universal Service Fund Lifeline Assistance Program, which currently provides a subsidy on phone services for low-income families in an effort to provide all Americans with the benefits of a phone, to include broadband. Additionally the Urban League has supported President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative and the FCC’s efforts to modernize the E-Rate Program to ensure schools and libraries have access to the bandwidth and technology that meets the digital learning needs of students.
Outlook for 2015 and the 114th Congress
The National Urban League will place priority on ensuring that high poverty, high crime, underserved communities are served equitably by the new WIOA law: (1) by advocating for inclusion of national and community based organizations and intermediaries as full participants in state and local policy planning and program service delivery; (2) fully participating and impacting the regulatory process that implements the law.
To secure jobs in technology and telecommunications, the National Urban League will place priority on initiatives to:
- Expand targeted federal initiatives that link entrepreneurs and the workforce to IT skills, incentivize innovation, and promote relevant resources for small businesses. In the U.S. alone, increased technology adoption by small business enterprises was calculated to have the potential to increase small business revenue by $360 billion and add more than two million jobs.
- Establish a federal tax credit program for small businesses that invest in technology to grow their business. For example, over three years, the Kentucky Small Business Tax Credit led to $1.3 million in investments by small businesses. A similar incentive at the national level could have tremendous economic benefits.
- Invest in the ability of nonprofit organizations and other institutions to provide low-cost business digital literacy programs and supports. The National Urban League has found that nearly one-third of African-American business owners received business training, mentoring, or technical assistance from a low-cost provider such as the Small Business Administration or a nonprofit association.
[ii] Economic Policy Institute calculation.
[iii] “Occupational employment projections to 2022,” Bureau of Labor Statistics (December 2013). See also, “Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity,” The White House, July 2014, p. 27-29. Accessed at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/skills_report.pdf
[iv] “Tech jobs: Minorities have degrees, but don’t get hired,” Elizabeth Weise and Jessica Guynn,USA TODAY, October 13, 2014. Accessed at http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/10/12/silicon-valley-diversity-tech-hiring-computer-science-graduates-african-american-hispanic/14684211/
[v] Small Businesses, Big Opportunities: Creating More Jobs With Technology, Hazeen Y. Ashby, Esq., Chanelle P. Hardy, Esq., Sean Mickens, National Urban League Washington Bureau, Washington, DC, Summer 2014, p.13.
[vi] “Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity,” The White House, July 2014, p. 92. Accessed at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/skills_report.pdf