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Mary Mazzoni headshot

Can Job Training Close the ‘Opportunity Divide’ Post-Pandemic?

By Mary Mazzoni
job training workforce development

Roughly one in five U.S. workers are collecting unemployment benefits, and as coronavirus case numbers surge across the country, job prospects seem slim for many. Even before the pandemic, nearly 28 million Americans were unemployed or underemployed due to a lack of relevant job training, a lack of education, or simply a lack of access to pipelines for better paying and more stable positions.  

Would-be workers aren’t the only ones who lose out when talent is left on the table. Entire communities are affected when residents struggle to find gainful employment, and businesses face unavoidable long-term risk if workers are not equipped with the right skills to fill vacant positions once employment levels return to normal. 

Investing in job training offers long-term benefits for communities and employers

Investment in job training within historically underserved communities is a key lever companies can use to bolster their own pipelines while bettering the communities they serve. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt the U.S. workforce and renewed conversations around racial equity highlight the disparities within it, business now has an even greater opportunity to rethink how it perceives — and invests in — future talent, Aleta Stampley, director of community impact and investing for Capital One, told TriplePundit. 

"We are in the midst of a real movement. We have a chance to be better if we take it. Both COVID-19 and the murder of Mr. Floyd have once again revealed societal injustices and inequalities," Stampley said. "Disproportionately the folks who have been boxed out of the workforce and small business spaces have been persons of color, which is why we need light, illumination and innovation to bring greater access.” 

Stampley and her team at Capital One support job training in underserved communities across the U.S. with $50 million in annual funding across over 200 community-based organizations, including those that support workforce development. In June, the company pledged an additional $10 million to organizations advancing social justice in Black communities and established a dollar-for-dollar gift-matching program for employees looking to support the cause. Given what we know about racial equity in the workforce, particularly in the midst of severe economic disruptions, the company’s focus on diversity, inclusion and belonging efforts with workforce partners is needed now more than ever. 

What we know about racial equity in the workforce — and what is needed for change 

The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic is devastating for everyone, but history tells us that communities of color bear the heaviest burden of significant economic downturns. Overall unemployment peaked at 10 percent during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, but jobless rates trended higher — and lasted longer — in communities of color: 16.8 percent of Black workers, 15.1 percent of Native American and Alaska Native workers, and 13 percent of Hispanic workers were unemployed at the peak of the recession. Unemployment rates for these groups did not return to pre-recession levels until 2017. During this time, Black and Hispanic households lost 48 percent and 36 percent of their respective wealth.

Early research shows a similar pattern as a result of the coronavirus: The unemployment rate for Black workers neared 17 percent in June, compared to around 14 percent for white workers. 

These disturbing trends beg a number of questions: Why are Black, indigenous and people of color more likely to earn less money, retain less wealth, and work in less stable positions? And why are they more likely to lose their jobs when crises strike? 

Workers need more access to opportunity  

Lack of job training is just one reason people struggle to find work or advance in their careers. Access to opportunity is another crucial piece of the puzzle, and committing to remove systemic barriers is the best way to ensure the success of any workforce program or job training efforts.  

Capital One is focused on four key areas when it comes to improving racial equity in the workforce. 

  • Narrative change. Changing the narrative "is about ensuring ‘truth in storytelling’ and removing stereotypes and inaccurate language from the narratives shared about racial groups,” Stampley said.  
  • Systems change. “Systemic inequalities disproportionately affect persons of color, particularly Black people,” she explained. 
  • Power. Essentially, this is about “having and influencing seats at a table — and not just any seats, but the ones that make talent and workforce decisions,” Stampley told us.  
  • Asset attainment. “This is more than having a great job — it's about having a great career and network to create the opportunity to build wealth,” she said. 

Targeted job training investments provide a means for change 

“When you think about those four barriers, there's not a one that hasn't played a role at a grassroots level in impacting our ability to succeed,” Stampley said. “Capital One is not only working on the symptoms of systemic racism, but we’re committing to addressing it at its root cause and try to change the baseline, the systems themselves, so that we don't keep working on the same problem.” 

Capital One’s work with community-based job training and workforce development organizations offer insight into how this plays out. For example in the Bronx, the company partners with The Knowledge House, a tech and career training organization staffed entirely by people of color. The nonprofit offers a 12-month fellowship designed to promote technology-based career opportunities for New York residents in fields such as web design and data science. 

Fellowships focus on people with little to no formal post-secondary education or tech experience, with a preference toward residents of the Bronx and upper Manhattan. With fewer major employers located in these neighborhoods, job-seekers have limited opportunity to obtain gainful employment in their own communities. Partnering directly with major employers like Capital One helps The Knowledge House develop a pipeline for emerging fellows, and opportunities may only open further as more companies shift toward remote work due to the coronavirus, many saying they’ll do so permanently

“As so many companies move their work — especially their technology work — remotely, now folks don't have to leave their neighborhoods,” Stampley said. “They'll earn a livable wage, if not a higher living wage than they are right now, and get a chance to work for big corporations that may or may not be located in that community. What an amazing model that will stand the test of COVID and actually become a best practice that happens in the post-COVID world.” 

For The Knowledge House, partnerships with companies like Capital One help to fund capacity building and new technology to scale the program to more people, with the nonprofit having reached more than 1,700 students thus far. 

“Capital One is a bank that cares about the communities where they have branches, and the Bronx is one of those communities,” said Jerelyn Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO of The Knowledge House. “To see Capital One invest in nonprofits in these neighborhoods really demonstrates their passion for the communities they serve. They want to make sure their clients have thriving neighborhoods, and they’re investing in our model so we can create jobs.” 

The Knowledge House will soon extend its model beyond the Bronx: Following a successful pilot in Los Angeles last year, it’s looking to scale to Newark, New Jersey, in 2020, followed by Atlanta, thanks to financial support from its brand partners. 

The bottom line 

Along with technical training, Capital One also supports workforce development organizations focused on apprenticeships and internships across fields related to technology and finance, including Year Up, Per Scholas and its internal Catapult program. For Stampley, this type of investment is not only the right thing to do to better serve communities, but also a smart business decision that other major companies would be wise to employ as they look to bolster their future talent pipelines. 

“In any other case inside of a company, you would pay very close attention to the pipeline of your products or services. Human capital is no different,” she said. “Philanthropy is a catalyst that knocks down the wall, but the business case says that we would be the best in the world if we could have the best talent out there. That means we have to have a broad pool to pull from.” 

This article series is sponsored by Capital One and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via Unsplash

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni