View the Executive Summary for this brief.

Case Study

The number and percentage of U.S. workers voluntarily leaving their jobs hit an all time high in the second half of 2021. In November, 4.5 million U.S. workers quit their jobs. Between May and September 2021, U.S. workers left 20 million jobs, an increase of 50% during the same period in 2020 and 15% higher than in 2019. Some have deemed this “higher-than-normal quit rate,” which started in the spring of 2021, as the Great Resignation.

From March to June 2021, the quit rate stood at 2.5% across all industries, and then ticked up to 2.8-3% from September to December 2021, compared to 2% or less during the same periods in 2020. The numbers are even higher in specific industries, particularly, experts note, where work is in-person and relatively low-paying. In June, the highest resignation rates were in accommodation and food services (5.7%) and leisure and hospitality (5.3%). These are also the two industries with the highest job openings (10.2% and 10.1%, respectively).

In total, there were 11.4 million job openings in February 2022, but the percentage and number of working-age adults in the labor force is well below pre-pandemic levels. The labor force participation rate (the percentage of the population that is either working or actively looking for work) was 62.3 % in February 2022, up from the pandemic decline but still below the February 2020 rate of 63.3%. Some experts point out that the pandemic pushed many individuals with the ability to retire early, but this decrease also amounts to 1.4 million fewer adults ages 25 to 54 working or looking for a job.

Many experts assumed school reopenings would allow mothers with children to return to work, or that the expiration of expanded unemployment benefits would push others back to work. Neither has had a noticeable impact on the labor market. The slow return of prime-age workers will likely directly affect how quickly the economy recovers and grows, as well as impact wage growth and inflation over the coming months.

Why it Matters

Work has long been a key component in the formula for Americans’ pursuit of happiness, which is one of the promises outlined in the Declaration of Independence. Arthur Brooks, professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, writes that work is pivotal for life satisfaction. Studies indicate this comes from pursuing two work-related goals: earned success (a sense of accomplishment and professional efficacy) and service to others (the sense that your job makes the world a better place). A number of studies support this claim, including those that have linked a country’s unemployment level with suicide-rate increases. Another study found a 1 percentage point increase in unemployment rate lowers population well-being by more than five times as much as a 1 percentage point increase in the inflation rate.

But the nature of work is changing, due to an array of factors from the gig economy to technological innovation. The coronavirus pandemic has further complicated matters. There is a widening gap between the number of job openings and those qualified to fill them, which threatens the continued growth of the economy and also denies people the opportunity to experience their own earned success.

Putting it in Context

In correspondence that dates back to 1786, founding fathers James Madison and James Monroe alluded to the importance of people fulfilling their physical needs, in addition to moral and emotional dimensions. Texas A&M political scientist James R. Rogers points out that happiness in the public discourse of the time “meant prosperity or, perhaps better, well-being in the broader sense.”

By the Numbers

Labor Force Participation

As outlined in The Policy Circle’s Economic Growth brief, the labor force participation rate measures the working-age (16-64) population of the economy – the percentage of the population that is either working or actively looking for work. At the start of 2022, the labor force participation rate stood at about 62.3%, marking the first time since February 2020 the rate has risen above 62%. Often not included in the labor force participation rate are the potentially productive workers that are not working and sitting on the sidelines.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis provides some potential explanations for the declining workforce participation, noting “that the overall aging of the working-age population is the clearest trend, and more education implies people spending more time in school, which means they start careers later in life.” COVID-19 effects on the workforce have also added to this challenge.

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2022 that the number of job openings in March stood at high of 11.5 million and the number of hires at 6.7 million. The total number of separations (quits, layoffs, and discharges) was 6.3 million. The number of quits stood 4.5 million, on par with records set in the fall of 2021. From January 2021 to January 2022, hires totaled 77 million and separations totaled 70.6 million, meaning there was a net employment gain of 6.4 million. Wages and salaries have increased 4.7% between March 2021 and March 2022.

As of April 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the total number of individuals not in the labor force stood at just over 10 million, based on data from the Current Population Survey. This includes 9.4 million who do not want a job, such as retirees, and 570,000 who are discouraged over job prospects. Before the pandemic, there were more unemployed people than jobs; in 2022, there are about 1.8 jobs per unemployed person.


After spiking to just under 15% at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in April 2020, the unemployment rate has fallen to about 4%, closer to historical averages. It should be noted that a low labor force participation rate can paint a misleading picture about the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate excludes people who want a job but are not currently looking for work. If fewer people are searching for work, they are not accounted for by the unemployment rate, making the unemployment rate seem lower than the number of unemployed individuals actually is.

Data from the American Enterprise Institute found that characteristics of the unemployed have changed since the coronavirus pandemic. Those unemployed since the start of the pandemic tend to be younger, lower-income, and with lower education backgrounds than the general population. They are also out of work longer, for an average of 20 weeks, up from an average of 9 weeks prior to the pandemic. In January 2020, only 20% of unemployed individuals were without jobs for more than six months. In late 2021, that stood at 80% of the unemployed population.

Obstacles to returning to work vary among the public. For example, one in three women not currently working cite caring for children and other family members as the main reason for not pursuing employment. This figure rises to 42% among women ages 30-49. Among men, only 8% cite family responsibilities, and only 14% of men ages 30-49 do so. Other reasons include personal health conditions, education opportunities, and the inability to find the right job.

Few Americans (12%) report working multiple jobs, but about 25% say they do something to earn extra money outside of their household’s primary source of income. This is especially true among those with part-time jobs (38%), those who are unemployed (38%), and retirees (20%), although nearly three-quarters of those with side hustles say they do not want that work as a full-time occupation.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7 million public sector employees and 7 million private sector employees belonged to unions in 2021. In total, 10.3% of wage and salary workers were members of unions, a decline from 10.8% in 2020. The highest unionization rates were in education, training, and library occupations (34.6%) and protective service occupations (such as police officers and firefighters, 33.3%). The lowest unionization rates were in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (4%); sales occupations (3%); and food preparation and service occupations (3.1%).

The Role of Government


The government plays a role in the labor market in a few key areas. The Department of Labor enforces and administers more than 180 federal laws that cover workplace activities for roughly 150 million workers.

Minimum Wage

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established a minimum wage, the legal floor below which employers cannot pay their workers, as well as overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment.

Health and Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to comply with workplace health and safety standards. The Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, under the Department of Labor, to set and enforce standards that would ensure safe working conditions and provide training, outreach, and education. Federal law also mandates that firms purchase insurance that pays certain benefits to workers injured on the job.

Unemployment Insurance

Under the Department of Labor, unemployment insurance programs “provide unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own and meet certain other eligibility requirements.” Unemployment insurance is a joint state-federal program; each state administers its own program but all follow the same federal guidelines.


Federal labor laws influence union membership and establish the rules under which collective bargaining happens. In the 1930s, legislation encouraged union growth. Prior to this, workers were often required to sign contracts that prohibited them from joining unions, and clashes between striking workers and employers often involved strikebreakers and government intervention. In particular, the Wagner Act (1935) guaranteed unions the right to self-organize (without employer interference) and the right to bargain as a unit with employers. The bill also created the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency that “[safeguards] employees’ rights to organize and to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative.”

Career and Technical Education

The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 was the first authorization of federal funding for vocational education, also referred to as career and technical education. It was reauthorized as the Carl D. Perkins Act of 1984, and again reauthorized in 1990, 1998, 2006, and 2018. It allocates nearly $1.3 billion annually for career and technical education.


The following Congressional committees are most influential on the labor market:

  • The House Committee on Education and Labor has jurisdiction over education and workforce programs from preschool through high school, higher education, and continuing education. This includes initiatives under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WOIA).
    • WOIA, signed into law in 2014, requires states to align workforce development programs with the coordinated needs of job seekers and employers. It is meant to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services, and to match employers with needed skilled workers.
  • The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions has jurisdiction over areas including equal employment opportunity, labor standards, labor disputes, occupational safety and health, wages and hours, and pensions and retirement plans.


States are in charge of a number of administrative labor market tasks, including complying with established federal guidelines. For example, each state has its own minimum wage law, but this law must comply with federal standards. See each state’s minimum wage here. Similarly, each state has an office for occupational safety and health. Find out about your state’s occupational health and safety plan.

Each state also administers its own unemployment insurance program. See a full list of state labor market information contacts here, and compensation officials here. Explore different unemployment benefit policies by state, or find those for your state, here. You can also find how accurately your state pays unemployment insurance here.


One area of the labor market that states are uniquely involved in is occupational licensing. Licensing rules are set by the states, and cover occupations from plumbers to massage therapists. Each state makes its own rules, which means it is up to the states to maintain high standards for public health and safety while also ensuring licensing policies do not inhibit economic growth or workforce mobility. At a more local level, states are best equipped to understand the needs and challenges of the local labor market.

At the same time, that each state has different laws makes it difficult to implement any federal level legislation. It also makes it difficult for individuals to move to a different state, as they will likely need to meet new requirements in order to continue practicing in their field of employment.

The Role of the Private Sector

The private sector is made of privately-owned, for-profit businesses (ie,, those that are not owned or operated by the government). The private sector relies on employees, and plays a key role in developing the workforce it needs to succeed. Worker education and training, for example, is an area many in the private sector have championed. Merit America offers technical training and professional development, with dedicated coaches and peers. Jobs for the Future and Corporation for a Skilled Workforce work to coordinate the American workforce and education systems to increase economic mobility. At the Aspen Institute, the Economic Opportunities Program and the Future of Work Initiative specifically look at building economic stability and empowering workers by focusing on the changing occupational landscape, harnessing emerging technologies, and reimagining workplace protections.

Challenges & Areas for Reform

COVID Changes

In the workplace, the pandemic has changed many workers’ work arrangement preferences, unemployment experiences, and career aspirations. This has prompted what experts are referring to as “The Great Resignation,” emphasizing “the higher-than-normal quit rate of American workers” that began in the spring of 2021 and has continued into 2022.

About 3 in 10 U.S. workers reported they were considering leaving their jobs, which is fairly consistent with historical trends. The variation comes through demographics and occupations; for example, 7% of all workers in Hawaii quit in September 2021, more than double the national quit rate of 3%, and the highest in the country. The Wall Street Journal reports that surveys show “low-wage workers, employees of color and women outside the management ranks are those most likely to change roles.” Particularly in the leisure, hospitality, construction, and manufacturing industries, quit rates are at record highs. Plentiful job openings, increased household savings, and a child-care crisis have made the possibilities of changes more attractive for some workers.

Brent Orell of the American Enterprise Institute explains, “The unemployed are looking for work, however, they are not necessarily looking for the same jobs they had a year ago.” The millions of jobs that are available are not always the jobs people want. Shelly Steward, director of the Future of Work Initiative at the Aspen Institute, explains that a majority are low-paying jobs that don’t come with benefits, scheduling flexibility, or stability. Based on survey data, flexibility is especially important for workers; a report from ADP found 64% of the global workforce said they have already or would consider looking for a new job if their employer wanted them back in the office full time. The desire for such flexibility is illustrated in the chart below.

Further testament to the desire for flexibility is the increase in the number of self-employed workers. There was a 6% increase among the self-employed since the start of the pandemic, while overall U.S. employment remains 3% lower than it was at the start of 2020. The number of unincorporated self-employed workers has risen by 500,000 since the start of the pandemic to 9.44 million, the highest since 2008.

From January to October 2021, 4.54 million new businesses registered with the IRS, up 56% from the same period in 2019 and the largest number on record since 2004. Of those, two-thirds were not expecting to hire any other employees. Take Etsy for example, an online marketplace where individuals can make, sell, and buy items from clothing to jewelry to unique home goods. The website had 7.5 million active sellers as of September 2021, up from 2.6 million in September 2019. Internal surveys show 4 in 10 sellers started on Etsy for reasons related to the pandemic.


Technology has had substantial impacts on our way of life, from the way cars helped create suburban sprawls to the social impacts of companies like Twitter and Facebook. The workplace is no different.


For some workers, flexibility during the coronavirus pandemic came in the form of telework, but it was not widespread across the workforce. Before the pandemic, less than 10% of the workforce in the U.S was remote. In March 2020, that percentage jumped to 35% of workers. As of late 2021, it hovered around 14%. The percentage, however, is skewed, as illustrated by the chart below; the frequency of remote work increases with education and income.

Early in the pandemic, over half of employers reported productivity gains thanks to remote work, compared to before the pandemic. Others were also able to cut costs for office space. Remote work also allows companies to take advantage of broader applicant pools. Workers are seeing benefits as well; remote work offers more six-figure jobs than any individual U.S. city. At the same time, remote work comes with costs on company and organization culture, social interaction, and collaboration. Additionally, the increased use of private internet and computers led to a 239% increase in cyberattacks during the pandemic.


The concern that smart machines, artificial intelligence, and robots could replace existing human jobs is very real; machines handled about 30% of tasks in 2021 and humans the rest, but that balance is expected to shift to a 50/50 split by 2025.

Some argue automation will create new, different jobs that will erase the need for physical labor and make workplaces safer for humans. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Global Artificial Intelligence Study estimates jobs lost to automation will likely be offset by new jobs created. Based on estimates from the World Economic Forum, by 2025, 85 million jobs may be displaced but offset by 97 million new jobs across 26 countries.

Another argument is that workers in low-skilled jobs will be displaced, and will not be able to find a job in the new workplace environment, which could potentially increase the digital divide and exacerbate inequalities. Research from MIT economists found that from 1990 to 2007, each additional robot added in manufacturing replaced 3.3 workers nationally, on average, and also lowered wages by almost 0.5%. Reskilling and upskilling will likely be necessary; the World Economic Forum predicts 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025.

Kevin Roose, author of Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation, argues that automated intelligence in particular and other technologies have both surprising potentials and limits; technology may dominate in some industries, but not in others. For example, four manufacturing industries (automakers, electronics, plastics and chemical industry, and metal manufacturers) account for 70% of robots. Additionally, technology is not “‘a disembodied natural force that simply happens to us, like gravity or thermodynamics.’” Humans are the ones, rather than robots, who make decisions about the use of emerging technologies.

Occupational Licensing

Occupational licensing is designed to protect consumers, and ensure only individuals capable of performing certain tasks hold those skilled positions. In the 1950s, only 5% of occupations required licensure; since 2020, that percentage has been closer to 25-30% of full-time employees, amounting to about 30 million U.S. workers.

Ensuring the safety and health of the public is the goal, but many argue that licensing creates barriers for young and low-income workers. To receive a license, individuals must meet certain education requirements and pay associated fees. Particularly while pursuing education, this can be long time periods, meaning foregone paychecks. Adding to the burden is the cost of education and training programs. For example, to become a licensed hair braider in Louisiana requires 500 hours of training.

The Biden administration announced in July 2021 an executive order that included measures to streamline licensing requirements. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would ban unnecessary licensing restrictions that restrict economic mobility; which specific occupations will be addressed is up to the FTC. Still, licensing rules are set by state bodies, which complicates endeavors for national changes. See this report, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, for state licensing profiles (starting on page 24).

Interstate compacts “afford states the ability to address many of the challenges associated with state-level licensing through flexible, state-developed collaboration and without federal preemption.” For example, the Nurse Licensure Compact allows nurses licensed in one state to practice in another state that participates in the compact.

Apprenticeships are another potential solution, as they allow individuals to “work alongside mentors and gain hands-on experience” to satisfy education or training requirements mandated by licensing boards. Those in pursuit of licensure would also benefit from earning wages while apprenticing.

A Toyota plant in Kentucky launched an apprenticeship program to address the local skills gap. The program has since expanded to 33 chapters in 13 states through the Manufacturing Institute’s effort to scale the program nationwide. The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) provides workforce development through 2 year apprenticeship-style programs in advanced manufacturing. The program builds strong mentor-mentee relationships between students, instructors, and employers. Employers completely subsidize the cost of trainees, which gives them an incentive to ensure the students succeed; 85% of graduates are reportedly hired by their employers for the program.

Career Pathways

Younger Workers

First jobs can have an important impact on employment prospects later on in a person’s life. According to the Aspen Institute, “Research has shown that youth unemployment can have lasting consequences – repressed wages, decreased upward mobility, and lessened productivity over a person’s work life.” Young people today are up against a number of obstacles in the search for gainful employment.

Fewer Entry-level Jobs

According to the Federal Reserve, the percentage of graduates who hold “good non-college jobs” (positions with a full-time average annual salary of $45,000 or more) has been declining for the past two decades. Among recent graduates, 35% are employed in good non-college jobs and 40% are employed in a job where a degree is not necessary.

Inadequate Preparation

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has noted that new hires are often “unsure of how to write a professional email,” or “struggle to organize and prioritize tasks.” Only half of managers believe recent graduates are adequately prepared for the workforce.

“Soft” skills include communication, critical thinking, team orientation, diligence, and integrity. Data from the Graduate Management Admission Council reports that, across world regions, industries, and company size, graduate school recruiters are looking for communication and teamwork skills first, followed by technical, leadership, and managerial skills.

According to economist Harry J. Holzer, soft skills have significant impacts on educational attainment and future earnings. In schools, however, soft skills are hard to define, and therefore hard to incorporate into the curriculum, particularly when teachers have other education targets mandated at the local, state, or federal levels. Partnerships between businesses and the education sector could close the soft skills gap, as no one knows better the skills employers need than the employers themselves.

For example, the Nike School Innovation Fund focuses on partnerships with public schools in Oregon, where a large portion of Nike’s workforce resides. The program pairs Nike leaders with 10 high school-based teams. College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence) from EY (Ernst & Young) and the nonprofit College for Every Student is a mentorship program that annually connects over one thousand employees with underserved youth. Job Corps is another program through which young adults can learn skills to effectively communicate with supervisors and coworkers. The American Dream Academy (TADA) in collaboration with the Milken Center and Coursera created a three-year program meant to provide skills training and career mobility opportunities for underemployed Americans.

Older Workers

Many in our more experienced population of workers are enjoying retirement. Many others continue to work, either because they want to, or they have to out of financial necessity. Total U.S. employment grew by 8.5% from 2000 to 2020, and essentially all of that growth was due to increased employment of people age 60 or older.

Many people under the official retirement age left the workforce ahead of schedule due to the pandemic; an estimated 2.6 million Americans retired earlier than expected between February 2020 and October 2021. Some are considering reentering the workforce. Labor shortages and the widespread availability of remote work is a draw, and others “realized they were not as financially prepared to live without a steady paycheck as they hoped.” The Policy Circle’s Financial Literacy Brief takes a closer look at the state of retirement finances among Americans.

These more experienced members of the workforce can also be an invaluable source of information for younger generations. It is worth exploring how society can pull from mentors that have gone before us and tap into that knowledge capital from the aging population to inspire the younger generation. What action can we take to remain connected and create opportunities for the older generations to share their know-how with others, to innovate, and just possibly spark something new? The Policy Circle’s Aging in the 21st Century brief explores this topic further.

Distressed Communities

Distressed communities in our country don’t fit one stereotype, but rather encompass urban centers, rural communities and former industrial hot spots. These communities typically experience lower workforce participation levels.

The Opportunity Zone initiative that passed as part of the 2017 tax reform bill attempts to drive opportunity into these communities. The effort charged the governors of each state to list up to 25% of their census tracts that meet “distressed community” specifications as an opportunity zone. The “low-income census tracts are places with an individual poverty rate of at least 20 percent and median family income no greater than 80 percent of the area median.”

In the private sector, Mobility Mentoring provides workforce readiness and economic mobility coaching programs. A Brandeis University evaluation of the 2009 pilot program found that participants had increased their earnings by 72% and 90% of participants received new postsecondary credentials. The combined gains in earnings and taxes paid, coupled with reductions in public subsidies, exceeded the program costs by $8,000 per participant per year. The program targeted individuals in transitional housing for homeless families and stabilization and supported housing for previously homeless families.

The success led to the development of the Economic Mobility Exchange, a learning network designed to share and improve the Mobility Mentoring approach with other organizations. In 2020, almost 150 organizations in 37 states participated, from community colleges, housing organizations, and foundations to health care institutions, child-serving agencies, and state and municipal agencies.

Those exiting the prison system also represent an untapped source of labor who typically have challenges finding employment, which is key to avoiding recidivism. Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people was 27%. The First Step Act, signed into law in December 2018, includes the reauthorization of the Second Chance Act’s “transitional jobs strategy” meant to provide activities “that promote skill development, remove barriers to employment” and provide “job retention, re-employment services, and continuing and vocational education” for participants.

In the private sector, programs such as Hope for Prisoners offer mentoring and skills training for ex-offenders that help prepare them for employment. According to this University of Nevada, Las VEgas study of 522 graduates of the program, 64% found stable employment. Of those employed, 25% found employment within 17 days of the training course. Only 6% of these 522 individuals were re-incarcerated during the 18-month study period. Employment opportunities exist too: Greyston Bakery in New York practices open hiring, meaning there are no background checks; Café Momentum in Dallas reaches at-risk youth with its culinary training facility, providing life skills, education, and employment opportunities; Down North Pizza in Philadelphia, started and run by formerly incarcerated individuals, pays wages starting at $15 per hour, offers space in two apartments above the restaurant to avoid housing discrimination, and connects staff with legal representation.

Reskilling and Vocational Training

According to the National Skills Coalition, “only 43% of workers in the U.S. are adequately trained to the middle-skill level despite those jobs making up 53% of the labour market.”

Reskilling involves “equipping workers with the tools and education needed for a new job”.  This can be within the same company (upskilling) or re-educating lower-skill employees to fill the widening middle-skill work gap outside their current company (outskilling). For many companies, it is difficult to justify the cost of training employees to leave. For others, “‘it has good optics for brand reputation and generating goodwill with departing employees,” explains Lori Freifield, editor-in-chief of Training Magazine. “It’s counter-intuitive but by helping a worker be prepared to leave you’re more likely to get them to stay longer and achieve more.” Additionally, reskilling ventures tend to cost significantly less than traditional degree programs a company sponsors for employees.

For example, Google CEO Sundar Pichai notes there are more digital jobs available, but there is a technical skills gap due to the fact that not everyone has access to degree programs that would teach such skills. Google believes online certificate programs could bridge that gap by making programs accessible to as many individuals as possible.

Vocational and career and technical education (CTE) refers to organized education programs meant to provide students with labor market skills through hands-on training. In the 1980s, there was a shift away from vocational education so students could take more courses in math, science, social studies, and foreign languages. The idea that not all students are college-bound, and the reality of worker shortages and skills gaps, has reignited attention in recent years;  in 2015, 39 states instituted over 100 new laws and policies related to CTE training, mainly to increase state funding. Read more about this in The Policy Circle’s K-12 Education and Higher Education briefs.


Not all people see employment opportunities in the same light. Take Uber, for example. Some assess that part-time jobs like driving for Uber or Lyft traps people in a job that doesn’t provide health insurance. Others look at Uber and the sharing economy in the context of leveraging the assets you already own, breaking down regulations and opening up opportunities. This just goes to show the labor market opportunities, and the wants and needs of employees and employers, are quite varied. Exploring different options to create career pathways for all is the key to self-sufficiency, earned success, and a thriving economy.

Ways to Get Involved/What You Can Do

Measure: Find out what your state and district are doing about creating career pathways.

Identify: Who are the influencers in your state, county, or community? Learn about their priorities and consider how to contact them, including elected officials, attorneys general, law enforcement, boards of education, city councils, journalists, media outlets, community organizations, and local businesses.

Reach out: You are a catalyst. Finding a common cause is a great opportunity to develop relationships with people who may be outside of your immediate network. All it takes is a small team of two or three people to set a path for real improvement. The Policy Circle is your platform to convene with experts you want to hear from.

  • Find allies in your community or in nearby towns and elsewhere in the state.
  • Foster collaborative relationships with law enforcement, faith-based organizations, community organizations, school boards, and local businesses.

Plan: Set some milestones based on your state’s legislative calendar.

  • Don’t hesitate to contact The Policy Circle team,, for connections to the broader network, advice, insights on how to build rapport with policy makers and establish yourself as a civic leader.

Execute: Give it your best shot. You can:

  • Attend a local school board meeting and voice the needs of businesses in the area
  • Work with local schools to identify skills and jobs needs
  • Set up career exploration day for students to visit local businesses, or businesses to come to a school
  • Explore internship matching opportunities
  • Reach out to education nonprofits or mentoring programs to offer your services
  • Identify a school or district to open a dialogue

Working with others, you may create something great for your community. Here are some tools to learn how to contact your representatives and write an op-ed.

Innovative Solutions and Perspectives

Allison Grealis – President, Women in Manufacturing

Allison presented at the 2018 Policy Circle Summit. She discussed the role of associations, using the example of the manufacturing industry where women make up a much lighter proportion of the field than other industries. In such an environment, the need for women to empower other women stands out. Allison provided tips on how to connect and build a network, and also how to empower others to enter into the field to grow and change it for the better.

Read Allison’s bio here.


Antonio Ortiz – President, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

The Cristo Rey Network seeks “to transform urban America and break the cycle of poverty one student at a time.” Antonio spoke at the 2018 Policy Circle Summit about the importance of first jobs for high school students that lead to careers. In this model, companies create opportunities for a real job experience with real work. Here’s a snapshot of the innovative solution and best practices Antonio shared: Companies pay around $36,000 to have a high school student work in a full time job. The job is carried out by 4 students: a Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. Each works at the job one day a week and they alternate on Mondays. In return, each student earns $9,000. Tuition to attend Cristo Rey is $12,000. Through this structure, students gain real world work experience that helps them step into a job that is a pathway to a career when they graduate, and the (mostly low income) students earn the income they need to be able to afford a quality education.

Read Antonio’s bio here.

Krissy DeAlejandro – Executive Director, tnAchieves

The mission of Tennessee Achieves, or tnAchieves, “is to increase higher education opportunities for Tennessee high school students by providing last-dollar scholarships with mentor guidance.” What this generally looks like is a full ride technical scholarship to colleges that guarantee job placement after graduation. Through the program, a student ends up paying a percentage of their salary towards tuition so they have “skin in the game” and stay on track with the classes and skills that will lead to a job.  This also motivates the colleges to offer courses that will lead to a career.

Colorado is another state that has implemented innovate private-public partnerships to connect youth to career opportunities.

Read Krissy’s bio here.

Mario Kratsch

Vice President, German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) Midwest

Germany pioneered the apprenticeship program. Mario is passionate about creating career pathways for American workers. To accomplish this, Mario helps lead a German / American apprenticeship program. In this model, companies create a job in an apprenticeship form and then hire employees that they pay to train. The company partners with a community college to provide a certification that is recognized by an industry. Currently over 70 U.S.-based companies collaborate to provide skill development training and certification programs for very technical jobs to make this model a success. The mindset is one of building a workforce with technical skills who aren’t full-fledged engineers. The challenge is this: ensuring more technical colleges are working hand-in-hand with industry. And in working together, they can make sure each program builds a skill-set marketable beyond one company. What can we learn from this German model? How do we make sure our state-level Education Boards partner with industry to define standards and create programs that not only meet demand, but also create careers?

Read Mario’s bio here.

Mark Feinour – Executive Director of the Support Services group at Bank of America.  

Bank of America is leading the way in celebrating intellectual disabilities as a gift, as a way to say: “Define us by our actions. Cherish us for our personalities. Reward us for our accomplishments.” The Bank of America Support Services division is an in-house marketing and fulfillment operation with 300 employees that has been employing individuals with intellectual disabilities for over 25 years.

While government programs exist for employing workers with disabilities,  Bank of America is not taking tax credits for these positions have the same entry level salary ($15 an hour) and benefits as any other employee at Bank of America. Each of us can use those lenses to look at the work we do – is there a way for me to create a job for someone with a different ability? Mark’s playbook is helping other organizations do it.  This type of initiative needs a champion who wants to make it a priority. It started with one person at Bank of America. The Chairman of Bank of America’s board decided to create a  job for his neighbor with down syndrome whose family worried about his future as a productive member of the community. It started with just a few employees.

Read Mark’s bio here.

Strada Education Network℠ improves lives by catalyzing more direct and promising pathways between education and employment. Strada engages partners across education, nonprofits, business and government to focus relentlessly on students’ success throughout all phases of their working lives.  

Its three-pronged approach addresses critical college to career challenges through strategic philanthropy, research and insights, and mission-aligned affiliates with the goal of strengthening America’s pathways between education and employment. Details about their approaches and resources are available here.

Other initiatives to look into:
In 2017, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation launched the Talent Pipeline Management Initiative, and now hosts a conference, Talent Forward, for enterprise solutions to closing the gap. For example, Ariel Corporation in Mount Vernon, Ohio, created its own Blue Chip training program and organizes career fairs for 7th graders and their families to inspire them to pursue highly technical vocational careers.



Suggestions for your Next Conversation

Explore the Series

This brief is part of a series of recommended conversations designed for circle's wishing to pursue a specific focus for the year. Each series recommends "5" briefs to provide a year of conversations.