On the same day that the federal government announced that unemployment had ticked up a notch to 9 percent, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) convened a bipartisan panel of former policy-makers on Capitol Hill for a spirited discussion about the lessons to be drawn from the 40-year history of federal workforce development efforts. Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, joined with former departments of Commerce and Labor secretaries from the Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations for “Developing America’s Workforce Event Resources: Learning from 40 Years of Policy and Practice to Inform the Next Generation.”
As the panelists considered the many ways that America can address its long- and short-term labor market challenges, Gunderson served as the principal voice of philanthropy. He stated that our nation must make substantial investments in basic education and lifelong learning to provide a solid foundation for its workforce. Noting that government tends to handle short-term crises better than those requiring longer-term planning and strategies, he reminded the audience that the preceding decades have seen a sizable decline in the economic standing of our nation’s middle class and warned that no conversation about the future of America’s workforce can begin without first looking at the troubling disparities in educational attainment among segments of American society, especially minorities and individuals from poor communities.
Calling for greater leadership in Congress on these issues, Gunderson cited efforts by the philanthropy sector—such as the National Fund for Workforce Solutions—that can spawn innovative workforce development approaches and paths to greater impacts in communities grappling with the dynamics of a globalized economy. He reminded attendees that, in light of today’s diverse economic, demographic, and geographic dynamics, partnerships and collaboration across the public, philanthropic, and private sectors are an essential component of any strategy to build up the skills of the American workforce .
Conaway B. Haskins III is the project director for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, a Public-Philanthropic Partnership of the Council on Foundations