Reimagining Workforce Development: Building Worker Power through Workforce Training Programs

Three new issue briefs offer policy solutions to shift away from an employer-servicing model and toward a model that builds worker power to ultimately create a more equitable labor market

December 16, 2021
Ariela Weinberger
(202) 412-4270

The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous challenges for the American workforce. For the millions of unemployed workers who do not have the proper resources or support to gain quality employment, labor market frictions are difficult to overcome. Robust federal and state workforce development infrastructure has the potential to take on these gaps and build worker power, but existing programs are inadequately equipped to address the underlying inequities within the US labor market. 

In 2020, the Roosevelt Institute released Employer Power and Employee Skills: Understanding Workforce Training Programs in the Context of Labor Market Power by Suresh Naidu and Aaron Sojourner. The report called for workforce development practitioners to play an active role in shaping the balance of power between employers and workers. However, Naidu and Sojourner’s research did not address the fact that funding strategies often lead these workforce development programs to place an organizational priority on serving employers rather than job seekers and workers. 

Today, in an effort to help workforce training programs raise individual wages and decrease inequality, the Roosevelt Institute issued a trio of policy briefs to shift training programs—postsecondary; federal and state; and union and nonprofit, respectively—away from the employer-servicing model and toward a model that builds worker power to ultimately create a more equitable labor market. They are:

  • Working for the Public Good: Postsecondary Workforce Training Programs by Alí Bustamante, Roosevelt deputy director, education, jobs & worker power, and Indivar Dutta-Gupta, co-executive director at the Georgetown Center on Poverty & Inequality, explains how postsecondary workforce programs currently contribute to employer monopsony and how they can break free from serving employer needs at the cost of undermining the economic well-being of students, workers, and their communities;
  • Employer Power and Employee Skills: Recommendations for Workforce Training Practitioners and Funders by Suzanne Kahn, Roosevelt managing director, research and policy) and Aaron Sojourner, Roosevelt fellow, provides funders of workforce development programs and practitioners who oversee the day-to-day work of workforce training programs with strategies to move away from an employer-service model and toward one that actively seeks to rebalance power in the labor market; and
  • Empowering the Workforce: How Federal Workforce Programs Can Increase Prosperity by Kahn and Anna N. Smith, Roosevelt research associate, education, jobs & worker power, offers policy suggestions to help federal programs promote worker power and narrow inequality in the labor market.

“The research is clear: Workforce programs must center workers’ well-being in their design and operation. Current federal and state workforce development programs are not equipped to address the underlying inequities within our labor market,” said Bustamante. “In partnership with the philanthropic community and state and federal governments, American workforce development programs can strengthen worker power and advance broad-based inclusive prosperity.”

About the Roosevelt Institute

The Roosevelt Institute is a think tank, a student network, and the nonprofit partner to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum that, together, are learning from the past and working to redefine the future of the American economy. Focusing on corporate and public power, labor and wages, and the economics of race and gender inequality, the Roosevelt Institute unifies experts, invests in young leaders, and advances progressive policies that bring the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor into the 21st century.

To keep up to date with the Roosevelt Institute, please visit our website.