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Cabinet Secretaries Commit to Scaling Equity and Opportunity

At JFF’s Horizons summit last year, Marty Walsh, Miguel Cardona, and Gina Raimondo started a conversation about building more equitable workforce and education systems.

Three cabinet secretaries walked into a Zoom meeting. . .

No, that isn’t the start of a bad joke. Just the opposite.

When U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo spoke together at Jobs for the Future’s virtual Horizons summit last year, they started a conversation about working together to build more equitable workforce and education systems that give all Americans opportunities for economic advancement.

In this episode of the JFF Horizons podcast, host Tameshia Bridges Mansfield shares moments from that Horizons 2021 session, where those three members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet agreed that the nation is overdue to better collaborate, connect, and scale equitable learning and work. And one way to do that was for their agencies to work together—which isn’t necessarily the norm in Washington.

“The fact that we are together doing this with you and doing this in concert is a big deal,” Raimondo told attendees. “This hasn’t been the way the government’s done this in the past. You know: Labor does its thing and Education does its thing, and Commerce is off with business. That’s so old fashioned, that’s not going to work.”

Cardona agreed, and said it was time for a change: “What it means is that we change our mindset. . . . We’re connected. We have our ears connected to what the needs are. We’re sitting at the table to plan programs with our workforce partners, with our labor partners.”

The Conversation Continues

We recently checked back with the offices of the three secretaries to see how things had progressed. They told us that staff throughout their agencies collaborate on a weekly basis to ensure that their work is complementary and coordinated. Together, they’re working on developing a unified approach to address workforce shortages. For example, members of their teams have been collaborating to amplify teaching apprenticeships as a way to address teacher shortages.

During the Horizons session, the three cabinet secretaries agreed that the country must remove the silos in the education and workforce systems. “We’ve got to work smarter . . . [and make] sure that we’re working together and we’re communicating with one voice to the families we serve,” Cardona said. “We all serve the same families in different areas, but we need to remove these silos . . . and not go back to a system that didn’t work for some.”

Walsh expanded on the need for better communication. The government must “make a concerted effort to let people know the opportunities that are available for them,” he said. “Companies are looking for people every day. They want people trained; they want people skilled. [Those people] don’t . . . have to be skilled with PhDs. [Employers] want them to be able to do the job in front of them.”

In their updates to JFF, representatives of the three agencies said that their organizations, along with departments across the federal government and throughout the Biden administration, remain committed to expanding equitable access to quality jobs across the country.