Last summer, in the shadow of COVID-19, a new coalition was formed to help put low-wage, frontline workers on the path to an in-demand career, one that will ultimately provide better pay and a better life.

“The people we want to help were impacted even before COVID, it’s just COVID has exacerbated and put a shining light on some of the inequalities that exist,” explains Steve Lee, the executive director of the SkillUp Coalition. “Our mission is very simple: it’s to help those who are on the downward slope of the K-shaped economic recovery.”

They are the tens of millions of Americans who, because of the pandemic, have either lost their jobs, been furloughed, or been laid off. In this episode of the Work in Progress podcast, Lee explains how the SkillUp initiative is working to help them.

“The end goal is to get someone into a better career, and we do that by four relatively simple steps. First, we have a technology which we think is relatively straight forward, which will guide someone through the journey of getting into a better career.

“Second, when the participant thinks this is a career that I want to choose, we connect them to a best-in-class training provider who will provide them skillsets to get the job. Then we offer some financial support to the participants who may just need something to pay for a laptop or to actually pay for the tuition of our program.

“And then, lastly, we connect them to employers to actually get the job.”

SkillUp is rolling out its first effort in Los Angeles, where in-demand jobs include pharmacy technician, electrician, and IT support specialist. The organization is partnered with Goodwill of Southern California to help facilitate the training programs. The plan is to expand to a half-dozen more cities by the end of summer.

Lee himself is not new to public service. He spent more than 12 years at the poverty-fighting nonprofit Robin Hood Foundation, working with adults on workforce issues.

“Over that time, I learned that the work is both incredibly rewarding, but also challenging. I think about what transforms family’s lives and, just as important, their children’s lives. The stuff that SkillUp does is one of two pillars. One pillar being education—how do we keep our kids better? But the second is how do we transform people’s careers and lives so that they can sustainably lift themselves out of poverty,” says Lee.

“Creating transformational change is what I think SkillUp is about. I think for me, personally, the goal is multi-generational because then the children of these families can do better in life and then their children’s children. And that’s how you create some level of change within the country, even if it’s a baby step now.”

Lee is genuine and passionate in his advocacy for the mission. You can listen in on our full conversation here, or download it wherever you get your podcast.

Download the transcript for this podcast here.

Episode 166: Steve Lee, executive director, SkillUp Coalition
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch, Melissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts

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