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What President-elect Joe Biden said about the future of work at a 2017 UD jobs panel

Biden and several co-panelists talked about the future of workforce development. How does it compare to the Biden/Harris 2020 platform?

This editorial article is a part of Workforce Development Month of's editorial calendar.

In September 2017, now-President-elect Joe Biden made one of his periodic appearances at his namesake, University of Delaware’s Biden Institute, to lead the panel “Choosing a Future of Quality Jobs.”

Co-panelists included Byron Auguste, president of Opprtunity@WorkElaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former U.S. Secretary of Labor; Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union; and Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International.

Over the course of the panel, they came up with six predictions about the future of the tech workforce. We’re revisiting them, and compared them with the Biden/Harris 2020 platform:

1. Two more years of universal free education

Delaware has had a form of this as an option for some time via the SEED program, which offers two years of tuition-free community college for in-state students who meet basic standards — but it’s not exactly “universal.” Nationally, just a handful of states offer free college for two or four years, including Maryland, New York, California, Tennessee and Oregon.

This is still a priority for Biden, whose Plan for Education Beyond High School includes investments in community college and workforce training programs, free two years of community college (including for adults), and free four years of public university for students whose family income is less than $125,000 a year. The plan also aims to help make Historically Black Colleges and Universities, such as Delaware State University, more affordable, among other things.

2. Hiring based on skills, not education level

Auguste was not a fan of centering a degree in many hiring situations, because many people have developed the skills needed in ways other than a traditional college education. Instead, his company looks at skills needed by a company and matches it with a potential employee who has those skills — regardless of education level. Part of the Biden Plan for Education Beyond High School includes a $50 billion investment in workforce training programs and apprenticeships, which are increasingly in tech fields:

“These funds will also exponentially increase the number of apprenticeships in this country through strengthening the Registered Apprenticeship Program and partnering with unions who oversee some of the best apprenticeship programs throughout our nation.”

3. Companies hiring underemployed locals and providing training

Biden’s platform includes the Plan to Build Back Better by Advancing Racial Equity Across the American Economy with a focus on Black, brown and Native communities. The panel in 2017 wasn’t nearly so explicit, but this was one area where panelists discussed the impact of racism on workforce training — specifically, that many Americans believe that low-income Black and brown people can’t be trained to work in the tech industry. Biden talked about a company in Detroit that committed to training primarily lower-income Black women for its workforce. All passed and were hired, with salaries that ranged from $57,000 to $180,000.

4. Companies telling colleges what skills they need, first

Murren, whose MGM Resorts each employ thousands of workers in a wide range of jobs, is a proponent of hiring locally, and of communicating with vocational and community colleges about what kind of skills they’re looking for locally, and giving students those skills. Biden’s proposed $50 billion investment in workforce training includes that kind of communication:

“These funds will create and support partnerships between community colleges, businesses, unions, state, local, and tribal governments, universities, and high schools to identify in-demand knowledge and skills in a community and develop or modernize training programs — which could be as short as a few months or as long as two years — that lead to a relevant, high-demand industry-recognized credential.”

5. Never-ending education

The Biden Plan for Education Beyond High School does include workforce training for adults — indeed, it’s right in the plan’s introduction:

“[B]ecause technology continues to change, American workers — whether they have an industry-recognized credential, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a PhD — will need opportunities to continue to learn and grow their skills for career success.”

6. A shared focus on the future

“We need to return to the idea that in spite of different ideologies, we share values,” said Transportation Secretary Chao, who brought a more conservative perspective to the panel. Sitting here in November 2020 days after a close, tumultuous presidential election, that statement seems more questionable than it might have three years ago. The election showed us that programs like free college, for example, are not something a large chunk of the electorate wants.

Issues like equity should not be compromised on to build a facade of a “shared focus.” There are many challenges ahead for these predictions and platforms to come to fruition. This one will probably be the biggest challenge of all.

Companies: University of Delaware
Series: Workforce Development Month 2020 / Election 2020

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