My guest this week on the Work in Progress podcast is Maria Flynn, the president and CEO of JFF, a nonprofit working to accelerate the alignment and transformation of the American workforce and education systems with the goal of equal access to economic advancement for all.

As we are all aware, COVID-19 has created a new urgency around issues such as closing the skills gap, the role of post-secondary education is developing the workforce, and equity and access to opportunities in education and work. With millions of people still out work—and as much as 40% of all lost jobs being eliminated permanently—helping people find a pathway to a good job has become even more critical.

“Career navigation as one of the largest challenges that we face as a nation. It is a weakness that is felt across the board. The question remains: how do we make this system of opportunities more transparent and actionable to folks?” asks Flynn.

Even as skills development is now viewed as a critical piece of our workforce infrastructure, more than half of the workers surveyed (56%) in our WorkingNation American Workers Survey say they are unaware of existing programs to acquire in-demand skills, or how to find existing programs.

While 21% of workers trust employers to help them gain the skills they need to compete and succeed in the job market, two-thirds of workers (66%) tell WorkingNation that they have never been offered skills training by their employers.

JFF Labs Career Navigation Market Scan

For millions of American workers, “the process of finding a career is chaotic, seemingly random, and ultimately broken,” says JFF. To address the challenge, the JFF Labs arm of the organization, recently issued what it calls a Career Navigation Market Scan which examines more than 1,000 tech-based companies that are trying to solve the career navigation gap that exists in the ecosystem.

The study highlights companies deploying new technologies to help workers navigate the complex world of career search and planning and address the recruitment, hiring, and talent development needs of employers.

“We identified 18 innovators to watch, 18 companies that we feel are really approaching this issue of career navigation in some interesting ways,” Flynn explains. The scan looks at “how the information is flowing in a user-friendly and interactive way, making sure that it is aligned with employer needs, that it is equity driven,” she tells me in the podcast.

“Like most things, the students and the workers who are kind of struggling to make ends meet and may not have the social capital and the connections that more entitled folks may have, are feeling this disconnect even more and are really struggling to find the information that they need to make a good choices about what comes next for them,” adds Flynn.

The Role of Business and Education

Flynn believes that companies have “a critical role to play and can really start to make a huge difference in the market by continuing a shift towards skills-based hiring versus a focus on traditional degrees.” She suggests that changing how job descriptions are worded, taking degree requirements out of job postings, and engaging in a hiring process to prioritize a focus on skills and how to assess those skills, are all forward-looking steps that businesses can take.

On education, Flynn says “we are really hoping to see a redesign that makes higher education, post-secondary education opportunities more agile, more accessible, and more connected to the labor market.” She says JFF is seeing amazing pockets of continuing innovation in larger institutions, such as Western Governors University, and in smaller organizations, such as Merit America. She says they have an important goal in mind: strong labor market outcomes.

As always, our conversations goes in-depth into these and other issues around workforce development. You can listen here, or download Work in Progress wherever you get your your podcasts.

Download the transcript for this podcast here.

Episode 159: Maria Flynn, president and CEO, JFF
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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