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    There’s an App for That

    App 300x200This week, I attended an event hosted by the National Journal wherein the conversation followed the flow of workforce pipeline, starting with Pre-K and ultimately concluding in a job that provides family-sustaining wages and career-advancement opportunities. Perhaps Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said it best during his closing remarks that, while in the past a 10th grade education was your ticket to the middle class, those days are long gone. Indeed, today’s family-sustaining jobs require some post-secondary education.

    Unfortunately, especially for people with low incomes or people of color, the workforce pipeline is full of perforations from source to spigot. Each year, and in the presence of limited intervention services, the pipeline loses people, casting another generation back into the cycle of poverty where they are likely to develop more conditions that make it more difficult for them and their families to escape.

    In response, policymakers have responded by creating new programs that aim to help people recover from society’s most worrisome disadvantaging trends. When it comes to employment, numerous programs exist to help older workers, youth, adults, dislocated workers, people with a criminal background, veterans, people with disabilities, displaced homemakers, et al.

    In recent years, some policymakers in Washington have proposed to consolidate these programs into a block grant; however, Secretary Perez has a fresh perspective. He said he considers these programs in the same way that we view apps for our smart devices. What’s your challenge? Are you a veteran, or an older worker, or a young person, or a person will a disability, or a person with a criminal background who is looking for a job? “There’s an app for that,” noted Perez.

    The idea of programs as apps made me think about the apps I use the most and why. It occurred to me that I use them to connect me to people or information; they are simple and address a specific need. And the best apps can perform several tasks within their function area. For example, I have an app that is both a timer and a stopwatch, rather than one or the other.

    It made me realize that Goodwill could be viewed as an app, one for every community served by a local Goodwill agency. For more than 110 years, Goodwill has understood that work is one of the most effective weapons in the anti-poverty arsenal. In 2013 alone, Goodwill provided employment services, job training and other supports to approximately 10 million people to help them overcome a range of employment challenges, including disabilities, a criminal background, lack of educational attainment, long-term disconnection from the workforce and other disadvantaging conditions.

    Whether you are a person in need of a job or a community stakeholder who understands that work is an effective anti-poverty tool, there’s an app for that called Goodwill.

    Seth Turner
    GII Sr. Director of Public Policy until 2015
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