Reimagining Workforce Development: Building Worker Power through Workforce Training Programs

December 16, 2021

As our economy continues down the path toward recovery, policymakers, philanthropies, and the nonprofit sector are looking to workforce training programs to address the persistent poverty and unemployment that many still face, especially in communities of color. While workforce training programs are not a silver bullet for reducing unemployment or for reducing overall earnings inequality, the relative labor market power workers and employers gain from these programs affects how much workers benefit from them. These power dynamics are often not considered by policymakers and practitioners, and as they currently exist serve to perpetuate outsized employer power.

In a series of issue briefs, “Reimagining Workforce Development: Building Worker Power through Workforce Training Programs,” authors Alí R. Bustamante, Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Suzanne Kahn, Aaron Sojourner, and Anna N. Smith provide actionable recommendations to help key stakeholders—including practitioners, philanthropies, policymakers, and advocates—incorporate a robust understanding of employer market power into workforce and education policy and program design. Ultimately, these issue briefs propose tools to reshape workforce training programs to build and expand worker power in the labor market writ large. 

Workforce training programs can be a part of an economic recovery that addresses persistent racial and gender inequities, but only if the funding and design of those policies and programs affirmatively work to correct the imbalances in the labor market. 

  • “Working for the Public Good: Postsecondary Workforce Training Programs,” by Alí Bustamante and Indivar Dutta-Gupta, outlines changes postsecondary institutions, as important actors in the workforce development ecosystem, can make to the funding and design of workforce training programs to help rebalance power in the labor market and promote broader prosperity among all workers.
  • “Employer Power and Employee Skills: Recommendations for Workforce Training Practitioners and Funders,” by Suzanne Kahn and Aaron Sojourner, argues that workforce development programs have a critical role to play in centering worker power, and thus in rebalancing the existing power dynamics between employers and workers. The brief provides examples to illustrate a set of policy recommendations for philanthropy, investors, and workforce training practitioners that can effectively counter employers’ influence over the structure of training programs themselves.
  • “Empowering the Workforce: How Federal Workforce Programs Can Increase Prosperity,” by Anna N. Smith and Suzanne Kahn, offers recommendations for how federal funds can be structured to create more balance between worker and employer power and to promote racial equity in the labor market. The standards set through federal funding—as the largest investor in workforce training programs—can influence the entire workforce training industry. 

For more Roosevelt research on workforce development programs, read the 2020 and 2021 publications these briefs build on: Employer Power and Employee Skills: Understanding Workforce Training Programs in the Context of Labor Market Power by Suresh Naidu and Aaron Sojourner and “Employer Power and Employee Skills, Investment Scan: A Federal and Philanthropic Workforce” by Suzanne Kahn and Anna N. Smith.