WIP Todd Greene

It’s time to rethink how we value workers

A conversation with Todd Greene, executive director, WorkRise

In this episode of Work in Progress, I’m joined by Todd Greene, executive director of WorkRise, a research-to-action network on jobs, workers, and economic mobility. Greene is also an institute fellow with the Urban Institute which hosts the WorkRise initiative. We discuss rethinking and reframing how we value workers.

Greene explains the research-to-action mission. “WorkRise is really about…taking the research that already exists and building out additional research and putting that into a framework that can help to create more action and solutions that can address real economic mobility.”

What are the barriers to economic mobility? Greene says it depends on who you ask.

“If I was to ask an employer, an employer might say a big barrier in the labor market is I don’t have people to show up and who can come to work or who present with the set of skills that meet my expectations for what I need to accomplish my business needs.”

On the other hand, he continues, if you ask the worker about what’s really important or what isn’t working, there is an entirely different point of view.

“These workers’ wages are not keeping up with where they need to go economically to be successful, but there are other issues that are also very important, issues around how they’re being treated and dignity and respect. But more generally, there are opportunities about how they’re accessing training, what types of training, what information they’re presented with that’s really going to create the outcomes that they want to see to advance their own mobility,” Greene explains.

WorkRise brings together the stakeholders to find solutions to these barriers to mobility.

Greene tells me that one step forward would be for employers to address workers’ concerns more directly, which would solve employers’ labor shortfall and put workers on the path to better economic outcomes.

“We are at a point where we should be thinking differently about the value of workers. In the past, employers have thought about workers as a cog in the wheel, but perhaps if we reframe that thinking and if we view workers more as an investment in our process, or an investment in terms of reaching our goals, then I think that also helps to shift our thinking about how we view workers.

“In addition to the wage issue, we’ve talked about benefits. We’ve also talked about opportunities for advancement within the company. How are individuals presented with opportunities around hiring, not just hiring, but also promotion? What are they going to encounter? How can employers invest in providing workers with better skills? How are jobs designed? Are they designed in a way that workers can feel like they are contributing and have some autonomy?”

Greene and I also discussed how employers are finding and nurturing talent.

“We’ve got to think more inclusively about who works and who’s a part of our workforce. A lot of companies have adopted many diversity, equity, and inclusion frameworks. While this is not anything new, the reality of it is is that employers are going to have to think differently about how they’re accessing minority workers, immigrant workers.

“Those are going to be individuals who perhaps aren’t necessarily the primary targets of some employers, but we’ve got to think differently about how we want to engage and bring them into the workforce in a way that can add value to the company.

“That might mean earlier investments in early childhood education and in high schools and in technical programs to help to support those workers, so that when they are ready for the workforce that they are on a more equal playing field so that they can be competitive in our work.

“We need these people in our workforce, and so it’s up to all of us to figure out and to redouble our efforts in looking for opportunities to engage that broader segment.”

There is so much more to this discussion on how to rethink how we value workers and creating a path to greater economic mobility. You can listen here, or download from wherever you get your podcasts.

Join the conversation Tuesday, October 18, through Thursday, October 20

This week, Tuesday through Thursday, WorkRise is hosting Charting a Resilient Future for U.S. Workers. Solutions to Navigate an Uncertain Economy, a virtual conference. Sign up and be a part of the discussion.

Episode 247: Todd Greene, executive director, WorkRise and institute fellow, Urban Institute
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0
Download the transcript for this podcast here.
You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts