Overheard

Sheryl WuDunn on improving lives through better-paying jobs and social safety nets

Innovators share ideas with WorkingNation Overheard at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2021
By Laura Aka
October 18, 2021

“There’s a labor shortage and everybody’s searching for people to take on positions,” says Sheryl WuDunn, co-founder of FullSky Partners, which advises for-profit organizations on long-term funding strategies. “We’re seeing right now, if you don’t pay enough you’re just not going to get people. It may be that (employers) have to start paying more to get those people to come join their companies.”

WorkingNation sat down with WuDunn at the Milken Institute Global Conference 2021 in Beverly Hills as part of our #WorkingNationOverheard interview series. With Charting a New Course as the guiding theme, thought leaders and innovators shared ideas about the changing economy, worker development, education, tech, philanthropy, and more.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 and, according to WuDunn, many people don’t see a job that pays that little as a “steppingstone, unless they’re just out of high school or just out of college. That kind of job is just not uplifting to people.” She notes that jobs are more than a paycheck, that employment should give workers a sense of purpose.

She also argues that the federal government needs to do more to help low-wage workers, and that this lack of good social safety nets has lead to despair and problems such as drug addiction. “Our nation doesn’t provide the kind of net that allows people to fall into it and capture them if they lose that job. There’s no health care associated with a lot of these jobs. There isn’t any kind of support services, job search services, or childcare.”

WuDunn says career guidance should start early and it can be very impactful to make high school students aware of different options. She cites an example of programming in her Oregon town.

“The superintendent of schools recognizes that not everybody is going to go to college. What he’s done is put together a modern version of a vocational training program where he works with the local employers,” says WuDunn.

“He realizes that it is important that these students—even if they don’t graduate—will have one or two years of working in a particular area of vocational training. He recognizes that he’s got to get the level of training up for those high school kids so that when they leave the area, they can find a job in the modern world.”

Click here to learn more about FullSky Partners.

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