#TalkAboutWork: The Words of the Workforce

In a dynamic Twitter chat, stakeholders talk about the importance of understanding the language of jobs

As job seekers and employers grapple with the economic recovery, language is one of the key components to be addressed in the workforce world. Words have power. How we talk about workers matter, including what are the accepted words and phrases that get all stakeholders on the same page so we can help workers move forward.

Recently, a group of workforce-related organizations and WorkingNation released a field guide—The Words of the Workforce—which serves as an overview of key terms and concepts related to workers and workforce development. We designed the guide to be a living document, subject to ongoing feedback, input, and critiques, to ensure it’s as helpful as possible.

Our intent is for the guide to promote equity in opportunity, training and employment through the specific and thoughtful use of language. Examples in the field guide include:

  • What is skills-based hiring?
  • What is degree inflation?
  • What is work-based learning?

This language and more were the subject of an energetic #TalkAboutWork Twitter chat Wednesday, with participants offering their thoughts about the influence of language and its significance for workforce stakeholders. Here are some of the insights and observations from that discussion.

Byron Auguste, CEO and co-founder of Opportunity@Work, notes the importance of workforce terms being direct and on target.

Ohio Workforce Coalition says language is key to the entire workforce process—from how it’s talked about from the beginning to the subsequent results.

Ashley Putnam, director of the Economic Growth and Mobility Project at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, says misused terms are barriers to results.

STRIVE, a nonprofit that helps people acquire skills that lead to sustained employment, notes misunderstanding around the phrase “skills gap.”

Peter Callstrom, president and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, says there is more to a job than just a job.

Handshake, an early career network that helps students embark on their careers, says it’s problematic that soft skills are difficult to quantify.

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future is a public-private partnership that works to match employers’ talent needs with people who are unemployed and underemployed. The organization says it’s important to listen to the worker’s voice.

Massachusetts Workforce Association, a membership association that leads on behalf of the statewide workforce development system, says language needs to be understandable to the layperson.

Workforce Matters, a network of grantors that works to strengthen workforce development philanthropy, asks if workforce language is worker-centered.

Bishara Addison, director of job preparation at the Fund for Our Economic Future, says workforce stakeholders need to be mindful that labels often lead to inequity.

Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative (CYAI), which is funded through the Department of Labor, says diversity in experience leads to effective problem solving.

Sarah Miller, senior adviser, community and economic development at the Atlanta Fed, says it’s important to give career access to those without a college background.

Priyanka Sharma is project director at World Education and co-directs the Digital US initiative. Her thoughts on workforce language invoke the human spirit’s ability to persist and thrive.

Dr. Angela Jackson, managing partner with New Profit, says workforce terms need to be inclusive of people’s lived experiences.

Art Bilger, founder and CEO at WorkingNation, says our jobs should provide us with meaning.

For more of the conversation, check out these tweets!

And it’s not too late to chime in. Go to Twitter using the hashtag #TalkAboutWork.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

The field guide—The Words of the Workforce—is the result of collaboration among a number of organizations, including Opportunity@WorkStrada Education NetworkNational Fund for Workforce SolutionsSkillUpTalent RewireWhiteboard AdvisorsAmerica’s PromiseCognizant FoundationGrads of LifeJFFNational Skills CoalitionNew Profit, and WorkingNation.