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 [email protected], notes the importance of workforce terms being direct and on target.
A1: Lazy language makes for hazy thinking.
It’s time to stop addressing what people don’t have, & start recognizing what they do have. Employers must start using the term STARs (Skilled Through Alternative Routes) to describe workers without four-year degrees.#TalkAboutWork https://t.co/VfFoUZ4WIB
— Byron Auguste (@byron_auguste) September 22, 2021
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.
A1 Language is also critical to measuring outcomes and impact of our work. We can’t count what we can’t commonly define. #TalkAboutWork
— ohiowfc (@ohiowfc) September 22, 2021
Ashley Putnam, director of the Economic Growth and Mobility Project at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, says misused terms are barriers to results.
#TalkAboutWork Terms shape our policy decisions. When we frame job seekers as low-skill, we seek to address the skills gap without addressing the larger opportunity gap.
Our terms are often informed by our biases, and thus limit our solutions. https://t.co/fNw1OPihUv
— Ashley Putnam (@AshleyAPutnam) September 22, 2021
STRIVE, a nonprofit that helps people acquire skills that lead to sustained employment, notes misunderstanding around the phrase “skills gap.”
A2: Skills gap. People often use it to describe ways in which a talent pool is lacking, instead of a general mismatch of skills. It shifts attention away from the #responsibility of employers to #upskill their workforce or do away with unnecessary requirements. #TalkAboutWork
— STRIVE (@STRIVEINTL) September 22, 2021
Peter Callstrom, president and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, says there is more to a job than just a job.
A2: When we #TalkAboutWork we must talk about #jobquality. It’s not just perks, job quality must include opportunities and meet the employee’s needs. The @sdworkforce has created a framework for building job quality into your #workdev approach: https://t.co/HDXzkiqJOB
— Peter Callstrom (@PeterACallstrom) September 22, 2021
Handshake, an early career network that helps students embark on their careers, says it’s problematic that soft skills are difficult to quantify.
A2: Soft skills! Employers need talent with them, but struggle to measure something so intangible. To better understand them, we encourage organizations to double down on internships, micro-internships, and mentorship for young talent????https://t.co/Sa3gspjmDb
— Handshake (@joinHandshake) September 22, 2021
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.
A3: It’s a small step, but we can start by admitting we aren’t always the expert and deferring to people who live the experience we’re trying to capture. And different people within one “group” may prefer different terms, so approach things openly and stay flexible #talkaboutwork https://t.co/vpRiQ1sjdy
— Skills (@SCFJobs) September 22, 2021
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.
A3: We need to use language that makes sense to people who aren’t policy wonks or experts. We are often asked to define “What is the workforce system?” We came up with a graphic to help in #MA, but we need it reinforced by media/journalists. #TalkAboutWork https://t.co/3B0GsSTFMF pic.twitter.com/mxMbjfruSt
— Massachusetts Workforce Association (@MAWorkforce) September 22, 2021
Workforce Matters, a network of grantors that works to strengthen workforce development philanthropy, asks if workforce language is worker-centered.
A3. Orgs, journalists, funders & others need to consider the impact of our words on shaping the narrative about work & workers. Are we centering workers and their experiences within a systems frame? If not, maybe our words should change #TalkAboutWork
— Workforce Matters (@WFMFunders) September 22, 2021
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.
A4: in the criminal justice reform space, we are careful to separate the person from the situation. Everyone is more than their worst mistake, ie: individuals with criminal records, or individuals involved with the criminal justice system. #TalkAboutWork @TowardsEmploy
— Bishara W Addison (@BisharaAddison) September 22, 2021
Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative (CYAI), which is funded through the Department of Labor, says diversity in experience leads to effective problem solving.
A4 Here at #CYAI2024, we focus on diversifying the cybersecurity workforce because diverse teams can better solve a wide variety of problems! Different people have different experiences which results in more unique perspectives and skills at the table. #TalkAboutWork
— Cybersecurity Youth Apprenticeship Initiative (@CYAI2024) September 22, 2021
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.
A4: The @AtlantaFed has used Opportunity Occupations to highlight the significant set of career pathways out there that don’t require a bachelors degree. It’s about accessing those jobs which lead to greater opportunity for the worker.https://t.co/zuzC81MQV8
— Sarah Miller (@sarah7994) September 22, 2021
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.
A5. #DigitalResilience so that we are equipping workers for the job needs and opportunities of today and the evolving nature of work and advances in technology tomorrow. (@JoinDigitalUS‘s full definition at https://t.co/AiHP3dAHJ8) #TalkAboutWork https://t.co/MUOuGYoB94 pic.twitter.com/P9COlflNse
— Priyanka Sharma (@PriyankaTweets2) September 22, 2021
Dr. Angela Jackson, managing partner with New Profit, says workforce terms need to be inclusive of people’s lived experiences.
A5: I would love to see more people talking about #ProximateLeaders – We need to lift up their experiences, knowledge and impactful solutions when we #TalkAboutWork. https://t.co/SlJm0r4EIj
— Dr. Angela Jackson (@angjack) September 22, 2021
Art Bilger, founder and CEO at WorkingNation, says our jobs should provide us with meaning.
A5: “Purpose in work”. Who are you? What matters to you? How are you making a difference? We need to change the mindset from a need to work to a want to work mentality. With the right skills and job, one can achieve this. #TalkAboutWork
— Art Bilger (@art_bilger) September 22, 2021
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 [email protected], Strada Education Network, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, SkillUp, Talent Rewire, Whiteboard Advisors, America’s Promise, Cognizant Foundation, Grads of Life, JFF, National Skills Coalition, New Profit, and WorkingNation.