(Photo by Chris Kendig Photography)
Before we can talk about the future of work, we need to talk about access.
Running a community program that teaches at-risk teens how to code, for instance, will have a hard time finding success if there’s minimal or no broadband access in that community. That’s why it’s so important to begin providing access with the lowest-hanging fruit — things as simple as showing people how to turn on a computer.
Exposure to the basics is essential, according to Tony Schloss, founder of Brooklyn-based education and economic development nonprofit Red Hook Initiative. The organization serves as a resource for a neighborhood suffering from a near-75 percent unemployment rate of young people ages 18 to 24, according to the organization’s website.
“There are so many coding programs, but to get into coding programs you had to have a computer growing up so you know it’s something you’re into,” Schloss said on a recent panel at Technical.ly’s Rise Conference. “We need things that expose marginalized communities to these opportunities. We need more exposure to the tools that allow you to get employment.”
Schloss was joined by Rodney Foxworth, founder of Baltimore-based SocEnt Breakfast and mission investing advocacy organization Invested Impact on a panel discussion about the future of work moderated by PlanPhilly reporter and Young Involved Philadelphia director Jim Saksa.
Sure, the evolution of the innovation economy will determine how people work in the future, but the panel agreed that there are more pressing issues to discuss — such as who will have the skills to participate in the innovation economy, and how vital it will be to have a diverse workforce driving it.
“As cities invest in the innovation economy, be diligent, thoughtful and intentional about what that means for other parts of the economy,” Foxworth said. “A dual strategy to support and create pathways for innovation works, but still make sure you’re investing in things that can create a livable wage.”
When local economies are developing innovative industries, it will be important for organizations across sectors to design access to those opportunities for underserved communities. Schloss said the fact of the matter is employers want to hire someone with all the skills, not someone with less skills. And if the person with less skills had to put in extra effort to learn those skills?
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“It’s a huge institutional issue in all of America,” Schloss said.
Foxworth said it’s the government’s job to rally support for providing exposure to the basics.
“Government has to take a leading role. It’s the one place you can have the opportunity to convene as many partners as possible,” he said. “The conversation itself has to be reoriented and has to be much more inclusive.”
Schloss said Red Hook Initiative fills the education void by assigning personal value to the tech skills they’re teaching. That shift away from monetary return, he said, should be a practice instilled across tech and education.
“A young person who helped create our network will say, ‘You can get online because I put it up there. I’m connected to that device up there in a personal way, and I find value in it and myself that way,'” Schloss said.-30-
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