The first session of the final day of the ECS Forum on Justice & Opportunity explored the need for targeted advocacy to offer solutions to systemic problems that underlie the ongoing crisis for the dispositionally impacted workers of color struggling with economic uncertainty.
“Routes from a Job to a Career” featured a panel of government and nonprofit leaders, including moderator Ashley Putnam, Federal Reserve Bank; Sheila Ireland, PA Department of Labor and Industry; Michael O’Bryan, The Village of Arts and Humanities, and Arley Styer, Episcopal Community Services, discussing employment issues, unfair benefits programs, racial equity, and post-pandemic economic recovery.
“The pandemic has taught us the importance not only of digital literacy but also how critical access to technology on the internet is,” Styer said. “So while schools in the city and service providers need to broaden digital literacy and STEM education, technology companies really need to do their part to make sure everyone has access.”
“There is so much happening at one time that to honestly focus on the opportunity gap or a skills gap as the primary concern is so reductionist in the context of the complexity of the moment,” O’Bryan said, “and I think my concern about the reticence that people can have for a reframe is that people’s lives are legitimately on the line.”
“In the context of everything transpiring in our city this week, the reality is that if people cannot eat, or adequately clothe themselves and their families, or have to work 60 hours in a week to still struggle to pay their rent,” he said, “I don’t know what opportunity gap we’re talking because that isn’t a skills gap. I invite us during this time to think about the true complexity of the problem — and I think our answers have to get more complex.”
In addition to working towards racial equity during the economic recovery, the employment and career panel offered solutions for leaders to better understand their mission and the people they assist.
“How are we measuring results? Like are we truly impacting the people that we serve?” Ireland asked. “I know we use that word, collaboration, a lot because it’s important. What collaboration means to me, very specifically, is that I am listening, and you see that I am listening because there is a shift in the way I do business.”
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“Using the information that I gained from those conversations to fundamentally changed the way I do my work so that I have more impact for the people that I serve,” she added.
Over two dozen participants engaged in the virtual discussion by posting questions or comments. “The topic of collaborating from the top down with bottom-up approaches can’t be overstated,” wrote one respondent.
Another challenged the panelists, asking, “Isn’t the actual thing we need to do is to get the laws passed so that we have equality in our schools and a minimum income for families. We can’t expect companies to solve our problems on a bit by bit process. We need all kids to have good schools and computers and enough food to eat. Having some good works help a few students is not going to make the changes we must have.”-30-
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