Building equitable hiring practices also means having a universal understanding of certain issues and terms affecting the labor market.
The seismic effects of the pandemic, coupled with the wave of 2020 diversity commitments in corporate America, have generated increased media attention on issues of workforce development, economic mobility, and opportunity. But as is so often the case, the more prevalent a given issue becomes in the national narrative, the muddier the terminology used to describe that issue becomes. Today, there is a lack of a strong, clear definition for many words in the lexicon of workforce development.
What, for example, do we actually mean when we say “skills gap”? What is the precise definition of an “essential worker”? Are “certificates” and “certifications” the same thing—and if not, what exactly is the difference?
Grads of Life has contributed to addressing this challenge in partnership with researchers and subject matter experts from a diverse cross-section of workforce-related organizations. With WorkingNation, we’re excited to share the first draft of our new field guide, designed to serve as an overview of key terms and concepts related to workforce development.
The guide was a collaborative effort of a diverse group of nonprofit organizations focused on workforce policy and equity issues. We’re grateful for the partnership of Opportunity@Work, Strada Education Network, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, Talent Rewire, Whiteboard Advisors, WorkingNation, America’s Promise, Cognizant Foundation, JFF, National Skills Coalition, New Profit, and Skillup Coalition as this document has come together over the past few months.
Within the guide, we highlight our Dismissed by Degrees report which was instrumental in defining and discussing the phenomenon around “degree inflation” and encouraging employers to adopt skills-based hiring practices. Most recently, our Ten Proven Actions to Advance Diversity, Equity & Inclusion report, in partnership with Bain & Company, defined and codified certain best “Opportunity Employment” practices that deserve corporate America’s attention.
We’re excited for this guide to start a conversation about how our use of language shapes the policies and practices that define the world of work. This is, of course, is particularly critical in the context of our country’s effort to reckon with the ongoing reality of systemic racism and inequity in the workplace. If we seek to build a more equitable, just society, critically examining the language we use – and the language we don’t use – must be part of that project.
It’s important to note that the goal of this field guide is not to prescribe definitions that will always apply in every case. Rather, it is to shed light on the way that critical terms are (and are not) used by education and workforce experts, so that journalists, analysts, and advocates can move toward a shared lexicon for an increasingly critical issue in the national discourse.
We look forward to continued conversation, input, and critiques that can help make the field guide as helpful as possible, and help us collectively think more deeply and actively about how the words we use can shape the world we build together.