Strengthen Education, Improve Career Pathways, and Develop the Workforce of the Future

Economic Opportunity and Return to Work

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing economic disparities among racial and ethnic communities in the United States. Minorities are overrepresented in occupations likely to be most affected by automation and COVID-19. For a successful return to work in the 21st Century economy, Congress must commit to retraining and upskilling workers whose jobs will be gone when the crisis of the pandemic subsides.

Return to School with Safe Facilities and Infrastructure

According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report, approximately 36,000 schools across the country need to update or replace heating, ventilation, and air condition systems and could fail to meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for safely reopening schools.

Improving school buildings for children (and other efforts to protect teachers, bus drivers and support staff) should be part of a larger strategy of “healthy buildings” where people want to see modifications and upgrades that protect them and their families. Accordingly, the Nation’s mayors urge immediate passage of The Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act and the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act to invest construction funds in schools, targeted at high-poverty school facilities that put the health of students and staff most at risk.

We are at a crossroads in American history around the future of work. The pace of change is rapid, and mayors are examining the trends shaping the workforce of tomorrow, including artificial intelligence and automation, the changing models around freedom and flexibility in the workplace, the impact of the gig economy, and whether city residents will be able to work sustainably and earn a living wage or be left behind. The skill transitions are going to be quite substantial, and many will lack the skills necessary to thrive in a changing workplace. Mayors are facing up to the challenges and are examining ways to help workers and businesses manage their way and succeed throughout this transition.

Accordingly, mayors call on the President and Congress to:

Increase Funding for Workforce Innovation

Faced with unprecedented skills gaps, governments are pursuing alternative pathways to recruit and develop new talent – non-traditional apprenticeships, immersive internships, coding boot camps, etc. These innovative efforts require mayoral leadership and a willingness to partner with a number of different stakeholders.

The Chicago Apprentice Network is one such best practice, with the tools needed to build successful, collaborative apprenticeship programs. Similarly, the Center for Workforce Innovation (CWI) is a partnership with the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Committee for Progress, Atlanta Technical College and sponsor companies, committed to supporting high demand career fields within the Skilled Trades (Carpentry, Electrical, Plumbing, HVAC, Welding), IT/Coding (IT Support, Networking, Cloud Technologies) and Aviation. Code Louisville is another success story – a strong public-private partnership that bolsters technological innovation in the region. To build on these and other local innovations, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) must be fully funded at authorized levels, and reauthorization must further promote and support workforce innovation and employee freedom and flexibility in cities.

Improve Coordination and Access to Jobs and Job Training Opportunities

Mayors are leading the way with innovative solutions and initiatives to address the economic insecurity and community challenges associated with rapid changes to work and at work. Accordingly, the President and Congress are urged to:

  • Expand apprenticeship opportunities and on-ramps to serve adults in transition, in addition to young people entering the workforce.
  • Offer recognition and incentives for skills gains, including nationally recognized occupation credentials and transferable, stackable competencies, so that human talent is rewarded.
  • Systematically authorize the delivery of skills, training, and learning with support of federal Pell Grants, Perkins funds, and other resources by providers beyond the limited scope of accreditation by traditional institutions, including credentials, badges, certificates, and other non-degree validated indicators of aptitude, knowledge, talent, and skills.
  • Substantially broaden the governance of accreditation to include mayors and other public representatives in addition to existing representation of postsecondary institutions, in order to assure that the public interest in quality, equity, innovation, and workforce development is served.
  • Build on prior reforms to provide better coordination and adopt frameworks that incentivize career pathways, dual enrollment approaches, and recognized postsecondary credentials and employment outcomes in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization.
  • Expand Pell grant eligibility to short-term training and credentials and strengthen connections to local and regional economies.
  • Promote better coordination between WIOA and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in reauthorization. Incompatible performance measures between WIOA and TANF impede cooperation and collaboration and should be streamlined.
  • Restore the long-term commitment to a strong summer jobs program by establishing separate ongoing funding for youth summer jobs programs enabling students to have work experience and on-the-job training.
  • Adopt immigration policies that help American companies attract and retain the best and brightest workers, provide green cards for advanced degree graduates of American universities, create a new green card category for entrepreneurs, and reform current H-1B visa programs.
  • Create new funding programs and grants for labor workforce upskilling and reskilling to deal with the effects of automation at the workplace.
  • Strengthen the food safety-net by increasing current benefit levels for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) so that low-income workers can supplement their incomes and begin to build back some level of economic security.
  • Expand access to career exploration and preparation through career academies and other strategies.

Prepare the Future Workforce

Universal Pre-K Education

The track record is clear. High-quality preschool provides the foundation for success in school and helps mitigate educational gaps that exist between children from high- and low-income families before they enter kindergarten. America’s mayors have been strong advocates for high-quality early learning, and many of our cities have demonstrated that universal early learning has a proven, powerful impact for our children and profound impacts on later learning and success. Accordingly, mayors call on the President and Congress to:

  • Enact federal legislation that provides access for all three- and four-year olds from families with incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line to a high-quality, full-day early childhood education.
  • Expand access to high-quality, early childhood education for all of our Nation’s children.
  • Expand access to subsidized child care for children ages 0-3 years old for low-income parents.
  • Improve the quality of all child care.
  • Expand enrollment in Early Head Start.

K-12 Education Excellence

The failure of many schools to properly prepare students for college, career and life leaves them unprepared to compete in the global economy. Together, we call on the President, Congress, state and local leaders to:

  • Reform K-12 education to recruit, retain, recognize, and reward the most talented educators and ensure their efficacy.
  • Expand individualized, personalized learning, matching instructional tasks to skill levels, interests, and abilities.
  • Enhance parental choice and control among public schools to help overcome the lasting effects of decades of redlining and segregation.
  • Fuse academics with wraparound supports to address issues of poverty and meet the needs of the whole child to improve student achievement.
  • Reintroduce modern skills training and promote science, technology, art, engineering, and math (STEAM) along with a civics requirement.
  • Enhance physical education, health awareness, and performing arts within the K-12 system.

Higher Education Access

Our college completion agenda must embrace every student in every community, and we must increase our efforts to open the door to higher education access to more Americans in undereducated, underserved communities.

Therefore, we call on the President and Congress to:

  • Make two years of community college free for responsible students.
  • Increase college affordability by raising the maximum Pell Grant and assure its continued growth, restructure tuition, and financial aid policies to meet the needs of low-income students, and implement incentives to improve outcomes and lower costs using advanced technology.
  • Expand and enhance community college infrastructure to reflect changes in technology, advanced manufacturing, and workplace needs.
  • Erase the limitations on federal student aid for incarcerated individuals and for students with prior drug-related offenses. We need every student educated, including those who have made mistakes early in life.
  • Establish an industry-led task force, co-chaired by top-level administration policymakers, to coordinate federal efforts, and ensure the private sector is ready to support and leverage federal training and education investments.

STEAM Workforce Training

The U.S. is experiencing a crisis in STEAM training and workforce development. Too few American students are graduating with degrees in science, technology, engineering, art, and math, which impedes the Nation’s economic future. The Nation must revive its commitment to putting education at the forefront of the national agenda by investing in STEAM education programs, focusing on the need for quality teachers and restructuring federal education funding to address this need.

Future of Work

As new developments in technology and artificial intelligence reshape the workforce, mayors will need to prepare for a rapidly changing jobs landscape with widespread worker displacement due to automation, particularly for African Americans, minority families, and other disadvantaged communities.

Interventions in three areas related to skills and capabilities can help stem the challenges posed by automation:

  • Higher Education: Expanding access to a diverse range of higher education opportunities, particularly in minority communities, would create additional pathways to better occupations and lower the risk of disruption in vulnerable populations by automation.
  • Hiring Policies: Private- and public-sector organizations should examine the possibility of changing their hiring policies to prioritize hiring qualified, skilled workers from nontraditional educational backgrounds rather than only candidates with university degrees.
  • Upskilling: Providing workers in high-risk industries with upskilling opportunities to build new skillsets for emerging positions in companies will help position the United States for a successful transition to a 21st Century economy.