Major themes at NCLR workforce forum: policy advocacy & community-based connectors

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, May 11, 2016

The importance of policy advocacy and the crucial role of community-based nonprofits in connecting immigrants to workforce services were significant themes at last week’s 2016 Workforce Development Forum.  

Hundreds of workforce practitioners and immigrant advocates gathered in Las Vegas for the event, hosted by the nonprofit National Council of La Raza (NCLR).  Among the attendees were dozens of NCLR affiliate organizations, as well as policy advocates, state and local officials, researchers, program evaluators, and others engaged in the workforce and adult education fields.

“The numbers do not lie. The future workforce is increasingly a Latino workforce,” NCLR President and CEO Janet Murgía told attendees in her keynote address, adding: “America’s future is tied to maximizing what our communities can contribute.”

As an organization, NCLR’s roots on workforce go deep – almost fifty years, said Murgía, emphasizing that NCLR affiliates have been providing workforce development services since before the term was even coined.

But it isn’t just about service delivery. “In tandem with our programs is policy advocacy,” Murgía said, highlighting a host of NCLR’s recent legislative and regulatory successes across a range of issue areas. She urged the audience to incorporate policy advocacy, leadership development, and civic engagement activities alongside their programs, concluding with a rousing call to participation in all its forms.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman also addressed the gathering, welcoming attendees to the “diverse and embracing community” of Las Vegas and winning cheers with her endorsement of a “path to citizenship” for immigrant families.

Also topping the conference agenda was a plenary session featuring four funders, moderated by NCLR board chair Renata Soto. Soto, who also co-founded NCLR affiliate Conexión Americas, led an animated conversation among panelists whose companies have made substantial investments in workforce development.

Panelist Chauncy Lennon of JP Morgan Chase emphasized the value of high-quality Career and Technical Education programs and shared information about his company’s investment in disconnected youth. Lennon also spoke at length about the critical role played by nonprofit organizations in ensuring that workforce opportunities and services are accessible to immigrant participants. Next, Monica Tijerina detailed McDonald’s highly successful English Under the Arches initiative, a component of its Archways to Opportunity employee training program.

Fellow panelist Dewey Norwood of Wells Fargo discussed the importance of connecting with young people early in their college careers and ensuring their access to resources that will help them build “not just a job, but a career.” Norwood reiterated the importance of trusted local nonprofits in opening up education and training opportunities for community members. Finally, Mark Espinoza of Walmart described the company’s incumbent-worker training module, Pathways, as well as the Walmart Foundation’s grant to support a Vocational ESL program for the retail sector.

In addition to the plenary sessions, the conference offered several dozen individual workshop sessions. Continuing the theme of policy advocacy, NSC Senior Policy Analyst Amanda Bergson-Shilcock presented two sessions:

Other notable sessions at the Forum provided concrete examples of the vital “community connector” role mentioned by plenary speakers. They included: 

  • An in-depth look at demand-driven, sector-based strategies from the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation in Brooklyn, NY. The pioneering program enables young people to obtain Class C Commercial Driver Licenses and become Paratransit drivers for elders and people with disabilities. 
  • A preview of an upcoming pilot program in Chicago to encourage more DACA-eligible immigrant youth to apply for Deferred Action and to help existing DACA recipients access job training. The program is a joint effort of NCLR, the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, and the Chicago Community Trust. (Read NSC’s Q&A on Dreamers and job training.)
  • Case studies of two innovative apprenticeship programs, including one for Latino construction workers in Madison, WI. Presenters from the US Department of Labor, the Calumet Area Industrial Commission, and the Latino Academy of Workforce Development shared a wealth of information about the expansion of apprenticeship programs in the United States, and the value of such programs for workers.  (Read NSC’s blog post on DOL funding for apprenticeships.)

Check out posts from the event on social media using #WFD16.