Policy & Practice | Summer 2023

partnering for impact

By Jess Praphath

Economic Mobility: Building Sector Strategies that Work for the Workers

A s 2023’s inflation and wage stagnation continue decimating workforces with low incomes across the country, disenfranchised workers who need it most feel like economic mobility is further and further out of reach. To help curb this, the U.S. government is putting significant investments into “sector strategies,” or workforce development approaches that focus on the needs of employers in growing industries and prepare indi viduals with the skills and credentials to meet them. For example, there’s the Department of Commerce’s $500 million 1 Good Jobs Challenge, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s more than $800 million 2 in dedicated investments for workforce development, and the department’s new $11 billion semi conductor workforce initiative. 3 While it’s promising to see this significant influx of investments into sector strate gies, we must meet two critical needs to fully realize the potential of these programs and help businesses grow. Sector strategies must operate with both the precision to support the exact workers who most need the support and the sustainability to continue sup porting these workers once funding dries up. My current work at Third Sector, a nonprofit that helps government agencies to be more responsive to the communities they serve, partners deeply with government to create truly effective sector strategies. In fact, the worker-first sector strate gies we are deploying right now in two very different places, rural Texas counties outside Austin and the metro

Boston area, 4 can inform partnerships nationwide helping them become more precise and sustainable. Our learnings in these states will no doubt help us at Third Sector to refine and perfect these specific programs. They’ve also provided us with impor tant lessons that are beneficial for human services agencies and work force development initiatives across the United States. The first lesson is that we must capture and respond to worker voices to improve program outcomes. We must actively learn

what people looking for work value most about a job and help employers remain competitive by investing in worker pay, benefits, and education and career advancement opportuni ties. Doing so helps employers adopt long-term plans that continuously address worker needs and retain their skilled talent over time. For example, when we started working with employers on recruit ment strategies with our partners on the ground in rural Texas, we quickly learned that the nationally available frameworks and toolkits for developing

Illustration by Chris Campbell


Policy & Practice Summer 2023

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