The Working Poor and Workforce Development

The Working Poor and Workforce Development


Future of Work Blog reposted from 9/28/2006 8:53:21 PM

In the July 29th Economist article from Welfare to Workfare, Jennifer Noyes from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty says that we should be thinking about the working poor, and those that cannot find work, should be considered as part of the workforce develop efforts within government, rather than as welfare.

I think Noyes is right. There is a huge issue related to people who cannot find work for reasons of physical, mental or social instability. Forcing them into low wage, high turnover work will not help them. And if they are single mothers or fathers, it doesn’t help their family either. And at some level, when we talk about workforce development, we need to think about how to break the cycle, as the children of these workers may well perpetuate this issue by falling into the same cycle as their parent. Workforce development is not an issue of current action, it is a multi-generation issue that needs to be invested in as much as we do our strategic oil reserves or long range strategic or diplomatic planning.

Much of workforce development funding goes to states as non-specific block grants, and the states remain one of the great silos in the world. As much as we have forced our dysfunctional intelligence community into open communication, workforce investments don’t cross borders between states. It would a brave effort for governors to challenge the status quo and start thinking about workforce across boundaries. Think about the issues of immigration from Louisiana into Texas after Katrina. That is a small near term issue, but it highlights the fact that in an open country, some issues are far from local. Work readiness is a national issue that needs local solutions, and perhaps we can experiment with collaboration between states. Use a different national model built on cooperation and negotiation between parties rather than a reallocation of national funds mandated by new legislation out of congress.

We talk of flat, global worlds, but we still have lumpy, ineffective workforce development policies in the US. Let’s not just take Noyes idea at face value, but use workforce development as a grand experiment in state’s rights – the right to cooperate on issues outside of a national mandate. This doesn’t just mean talking and agreeing, it means budgeting, forecasting and spending together.  And it means helping future generations avoid the issues of worker displacement, and perhaps finding new models of governance to stimulate the economy.


(As a footnote, I signed into my Live Spaces account today and Microsoft is announcing the end of spaces. Seems like my decision to retire this blog was timely.)

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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