At the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program, and for our many colleagues and partners, the ongoing and intertwined health, economic, and racial justice crises bring new urgency to our work to improve access to quality jobs, options to participate in business ownership, and the freedom to pursue economic opportunity. Below we share our monthly newsletter with highlights of recent work. As always, we welcome your feedback, thoughts, and partnership in advancing inclusive opportunity and an economy in which we all can thrive. Click here to subscribe.
News and Updates
Can Investing in Workers Support Small Business Resiliency Through the Pandemic?
In this extraordinary time, small business owners are increasingly aware that the wellbeing of their employees is essential for business survival, and they are forging new partnerships and taking new approaches to support their workers. On November 18, EOP and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions cohosted, “Can Investing in Workers Support Small Business Resiliency Through the Pandemic?.” This webinar—the eighth in our Job Quality in Practice series—explored strategies that small business owners and workforce organizations can take to strengthen job quality for frontline workers in the wake of COVID-19. We heard from two restaurant owners in Baltimore, along with a workforce professional who helped them prioritize job quality through the pandemic. Click here to watch, listen, and learn more.
San Francisco Entrepreneurs of Color Fund: Creating a Continuum of Capital and Consulting | Midpoint Report
Structural inequities—both historical and current—have created barriers for entrepreneurs of color to build wealth and grow their businesses. The San Francisco Entrepreneurs of Color Fund (SFEOCF) seeks to address these inequities by creating a more accessible and seamless continuum of capital and services for entrepreneurs of color in San Francisco. SFEOCF, funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co., is a collaborative effort among three community development financial institutions: Working Solutions, Pacific Community Ventures, and ICA. The collaborative hired the Business Ownership Initiative to conduct an evaluation of its work. Our midpoint report, “San Francisco Entrepreneurs of Color Fund: Creating a Continuum of Capital and Consulting,” documents the experiences, lessons, and outcomes from the collaborative, and offers insights for other organizations to consider in their approach to this work. Click here to read more.
Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses
Small businesses and their employees are grappling with the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic economy, including increased financial insecurity, tenuous childcare arrangements, and decreased access to safe and reliable transportation. What kinds of supports do they need in this extraordinary time? Our new resource, “Seven Workforce Questions that Are Top of Mind During COVID-19: A Resource for Small Businesses,” offers insights from interviews with business owners, business advisors, workforce intermediaries, and small business lenders. Each question provides practical guidance, examples of steps taken by other small businesses, and links to helpful resources. This tool is designed to help small businesses and the organizations that support them navigate these challenging times. Click here to read more.
Workers’ Coop Stitches Strong Social Fabric: Opportunity Threads Innovates in Changing Their Region and Industry
Boosting job quality changes workers’ lives. It can also enhance businesses’ performance and bottom lines. In a new blog post, Good Companies/Good Jobs Initiative Director Mark G. Popovich shares his experience with Opportunity Threads, a worker cooperative and textile manufacturer based in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Despite years of decline in the local textile industry, Opportunity Threads is among the strongest worker-owned, immigrant-led manufacturers in the country. Employees enjoy good pay, benefits, bonuses, a real stake in the company through employee ownership, and more. Because it invested in its most important asset—its people—the business is growing, with high rates of retention and productivity. Click here to read more.
Reconvening the Job Quality Fellows
In November, the Job Quality Fellows met over Zoom for the second of a two-part convening this fall. Attendees included members of both cohorts, including the inaugural class of 2017-18 and the class of 2018-19. Fellows are working together to draft an economic recovery agenda centered on equity and job quality, which will be released later this year. The agenda draws on the Fellows’ Job Quality Statement of Purpose, which cites good wages, working conditions, hours, and benefits as key aspects of a quality job. This year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, we see how crucial these elements are to working people and their families. Click here to learn more about the Job Quality Fellows.
Jaime Fall Talks Upskilling for the Wall Street Journal
As many people have learned the hard way, more education doesn’t always lead to more opportunity. This was true even before the pandemic upended our economy in dramatic, new ways. Looking beyond the supposed necessity of four-year degrees, upskilling programs like apprenticeships and certifications could offer the right path to advancement for many in our challenged economy. So how should we really be allocating our education spending? UpSkill America Director Jaime Fall shares his insights with the Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip. Click here to read more.
Mark Popovich Talks Quality Jobs on “The Future Works” Podcast
Good Companies/Good Jobs Initiative Director Mark G. Popovich appeared on the podcast, “The Future Works,” produced by NYATEP, New York’s Workforce Association. In this episode, “Economic Recovery Through Quality Jobs,” Popovich outlines the dimensions of a quality job and describes what employers and workforce professionals can do to advance job quality. “The economy needs to work better for everyone,” he notes. “That’s going to engage businesses, workers, investors, government, and others working together to create the good jobs that enable workers to thrive and for companies to be productive and profitable.” Click here to listen.
Updates from the Workforce Leadership Academies
Fellows in the Detroit Workforce Leadership Academy—offered in partnership with Corporation for a Skilled Workforce—presented their Collaborative Leadership Projects (CoLabs) this month to a virtual crowd of more than 50 stakeholders in Detroit. Following their presentations, Fellows reflected on their overall Academy experience, specifically the strength of the relationships they built through the Academy. They also shared ideas for partnering outside of the Academy, a promising sign of greater connectivity in the Detroit workforce system. While Fellows in Detroit were concluding their Academy experience, Fellows in Jackson were hitting their stride—focusing this month on their leadership practices, cultivating a data and learning culture within their organizations, and analyzing systems-change topics as a preliminary step in the development of their CoLabs. Learn more about the Workforce Leadership Academies at as.pn/wla.
December 15: Moving Beyond Gratitude: Opportunities to Improve Essential Work
Among the many unexpected lessons of 2020 was a recognition of the importance of essential workers—the people who work in our food systems, care for our loved ones, deliver our packages, and keep our public spaces clean. In this season of thanks, let’s do more than say thank you by improving the quality of essential jobs. Join us on Tuesday, December 15, from 2:00-3:15 p.m. ET for a virtual discussion, “Moving Beyond Gratitude: Opportunities to Improve Essential Work,” featuring Angelina Drake (Chief Operating Officer at PHI, Aspen Job Quality Fellow, and former home care worker); Jessica Felix-Romero (Director of Communications, Jobs with Justice); Terrill Haigler/Ya Fav Trash Man (Philadelphia Sanitation Worker); Zeynep Ton (Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and author of The Good Jobs Strategy); and moderator E.J. Dionne (Columnist, The Washington Post). RSVP at as.pn/essential and join the conversation by tweeting #talkopportunity.
December 3: Supporting Young Adults: Talking Race Equity & Job Quality with Employers
With support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Generation Work leaders in Cleveland developed an Employer Engagement Question Bank as a tool to equip workforce professionals to engage with businesses around job quality. On December 3, EOP Senior Evaluation Manager Ranita Jain will join Grace Heffernan (Senior Project Manager, Thomas P. Miller and Associates) for a webinar on “Supporting Young Adults: Talking Race Equity & Job Quality with Employers.” They will provide an overview of the tool and context on issues of job quality and race equity when working with employers. Click here to register.
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NEW: This brief by @jennyweissbourd, @VivianPVazquez, and @RanitaJain1 poses seven questions that #smallbiz owners and #wkdev partners have grappled with during #COVID19, including practical information, real-world examples, and helpful resources.
-Workforce Strategies Initiative @AspenWorkforce
Community Development Financial Institutions (#CDFIs) were created to address gaps in traditional lending and reach underserved people in the economy. In many cases, these are entrepreneurs of color. What needs to be done to scale CDFI microlending? #GIGP
-Business Ownership Initiative @Aspen_BOI
It’s National #Apprenticeship Week! Apprenticeships blend classroom instruction with on-the-job learning so participants can earn income while receiving occupational training. Learn more and view examples in our #UpSkilling Playbook for Employers. #NAW2020
-UpSkill America @upskillamerica
The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program (EOP) advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. We recognize that race, gender, and place intersect with and intensify the challenge of economic inequality and we address these dynamics by advancing an inclusive vision of economic justice. For over 25 years, EOP has focused on expanding individuals’ opportunities to connect to quality work, start businesses, and build economic stability that provides the freedom to pursue opportunity. For more information, visit as.pn/eop.
EOP has several initiatives, including the Business Ownership Initiative, Workforce Strategies Initiative, UpSkill America, and Good Companies/Good Jobs. In addition, across these approaches EOP hosts the Economic Opportunity Fellows Network and the Opportunity in America event series.
Thank you to our many partners and funders for supporting our efforts.
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