Labor and the Whole Family: Reskilling Workers for the Future

Sep 04 2021

XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling will transform the future of work – creating a world where workers can easily and rapidly attain new and more relevant skills for their current workplace or their next one. 

This benefits not just individual Americans but their families, too. After all, our jobs don’t just affect us, but also those around us, from the childcare we can afford to our wellbeing on weekends. This is why reskilling workers is about placing emphasis on the whole family ecosystem, says XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling Advisory Board member Andre Green. 

Andre is the Executive Director of SkillWorks, a nationally recognized workforce development funders' collaborative, where he brings a wide variety of experience in secondary education, workforce development, public policy analysis and advocacy, as well as data analysis and technology support, addressing issues of housing instability and homelessness, and expanding funding for arts education. 

Below, we put some questions to Andre about the changes we need to see to better the future of work, and how we can specifically focus on families. 

How does work-life balance affect family dynamics? 

Very few people live to work. And even most of us who are blessed to have high quality jobs we love would leave them if they won the lottery. For most Americans, Jobs exist as the means to support them. Over the last two generations, employers have too often lost sight of this fact. From the service and retail sector’s increasing reliance on part time workers with unsteady hours and no benefits to Silicon Valley’s building office complexes designed for normalizing 14 hour days, too many businesses have seen workers as resources to be exploited rather than people to value. 

As we learned during COVID, inappropriate work life balance can stress even the happiest and most privileged families. We know deteriorating work conditions play a role in smaller families, lower rates of homeownership and a general decline in the wealth held by workers.

What is needed to ensure a work-life balance that centers the whole family?

Workers do not cease to exist when not working. To best support them, we should recognize, again, that work exists to meet those needs, not the other way around. Employers need dependable, predictable schedules. They need the support that allows them to get to work, that makes work a place worth being, and provides the support to stay at work. The primary areas of focus are living wages, schedule predictability, housing, transportation, and childcare

Can you tell us more about these focusses? And some possible solutions?

At this point, a living wage should go without saying. Despite the rhetoric about a labor shortage, we really face a wage and benefits shortage. People want to work, they just don’t want to risk their lives for dead-end jobs that leave them in poverty. We need commitments to dependable schedules for all workers so they know in advance their work requirements. If we’ve learned anything from the lockdowns of 2020, it should be the necessity of access to childcare for many parents to work – public-private partnerships should be explored to provide high-quality childcare for all workers. And there is almost nowhere in America where investments in mass public transportation wouldn’t help connect workers to jobs. 

As we approach Labor Day, what message would you like to share to honor and recognize the labor movement and the contributions of workers to the development and achievements of the United States?

It is no coincidence that the Golden Age of the American Middle Class corresponded with the period of mass unionization. The Labor Movement plays a vital role in the future of the American workforce, just like it did in our past. And to be clear, the richest society in the history of the world got there by the collective efforts of millions of workers. As workers have been systematically disempowered over the last 50 years, economic outcomes for all but the richer have deteriorated. America is only as wealthy as its workers, and its workers are only as wealthy as they are powerful. Strengthening workers strengthens America.

What is the future of labor in the US?

Let me make a confession: I love science fiction. Allow me then to make some references. The US in 2021 is at a crossroads where we still have to choose our future. Do we want the utopia of Star Trek or a Cyberpunk dystopia? Will we invest in workers, not just as economic resources but as humans with a full swath of interests who are deserving of human dignity? Will we empower work as a path for social and economic mobility, or will we accept ever more rigid class systems under which the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer? The need to retool our economy in the face of climate change provides the greatest opportunity to rebalance work and wealth in centuries. So, are we up to the challenge?

Learn more about XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling here.