The Workforce of Color and The Future of Work

There is a tidal wave of cultural and technological shifting that is taking the world by storm.

This storm threatens to hit young people of color, the way they live and work the hardest. Innovation and old forms of discrimination are greatly compartmentalizing opportunities away from Blacks who either fail to have exposure to burgeoning career fields, or experience barriers to entry to which are difficult to break. Subsequently, this generation of black millennials are left most vulnerable facing the need to adjust to these rapidly changing conditions and combat discrimination and disparities concurrently. As this series will demonstrate, success on all fronts will be catalyzed by the availability of technology and the information & mobilizing power it provides.

What Is This New Shift?

Our workforce is changing…or rather the work requirements are. Over the past thirty years technology has driven advancements in almost every sector. That along with values changes in how businesses do business has lead employers to become dismissive of applicants lacking education beyond a high school diploma. And there’s a reason for that we’ll cover later. But as it stands, 19 of the 30 occupations projected to grow fastest will require some form of post-secondary education just to be considered. This is a problem that America faces. However to the young workforce of color this impending trend only exacerbates institutional and innovate setbacks that have denied many a broadly accessible standard of living for generations.

By 2018, the United States will have 46.8 million job openings. Thirty million of these jobs will require some kind of post-secondary education, and there will be a shortfall of 3 million individuals with the appropriate level of education to fill them.

What Do The Next 7 Years Project?

The baby boomers are aging but are still in the workforce, and now so are their children. Whereas the labor force is projected to grow by 0.5% per year from now through 2022, the participation rates is projected to decline.

Here’s why: Whereas it is clear much of the job gains will be driven by the retirement of the baby boomer generation, employers have also steadily signaled that their demands for replacing these positions will require a higher educational attainment than what was required when the baby boomers first began entering the workforce. “Sixty percent of employers report that candidates applying for jobs lack the necessary skills to fill available positions.

Why So Much Attention To Education Now?

Our educational system is failing us. In international comparisons, American students are now ranked 12th internationally. In other words, employers don’t believe high school graduates are as smart as their parents were when they graduated. What’s worse, there’s a skills mix match. Even with those who have obtained higher education, when tested many actually perform lower than the standard of that education level reflects. So the belief is to get a more quality caliber of worker, they must have a higher educational attainment.

The Inauthenticity of Diversity and Inclusion

Right now smart businesses are able to get ahead of the brand communications nightmare that is in the making. When it is truly known just how many people are facing displacement from work without having skills to enter the new workforce, the question will arise, “How many are skilled and simply being denied employment?” While it is applause-worthy so many tech companies are coming clean with how little their workforce reflects the makeup of America, and in response have created new diversity initiatives, what they haven’t communicated is how they have explicitly contributed to those low numbers. By engaging in PR campaigns highlighting lack of access, or the limited numbers of people of color in the pipeline, they shift the conversation and the accountability to the people who are already unrepresented.

As if the only problem with diversity in Silicon Valley is the lack of skilled people of color available to work. By investing in “pipeline” efforts they in effect imply that there may be some years before their workforce changes to reflect the diversity of America. Thus allowing them to incrementally brace themselves for the culture shock of transforming their human capital. However, if they are truly going to operate in the spirit of inclusion, why don’t they instead of sharing current workforce demographics alone, share the number of blacks and other persons of color who did possess the skills and education who applied and were rejected? These numbers are far more relevant to the conversation than projections of what the workforce could look like in 5 to 10 years when they’re fully prepared to work with people of color.

Access To Venture Capital

The other problem that results when entire industries cannot fathom ethnically diverse populations within their workforce is the trickle up effect that inhibits potential startups from being funded when their founders also look different than other CEOs. It has long been reported that minority owned startups are less likely to receive funding and struggle to get noticed from venture capitalists than White men or all-Asian startup teams. According to CB Insights, 87% of VC backed startups had all-white founders, 12% all Asian teams, less than 1% Black.

The evidence of what can be done with technology once in the hands of black millennials is astounding. Social movements have exploded onto America through technology in these hashtags alone: #blacklivesmatter, #handsupdontshoot. These are examples of the mobilizing power young blacks have when presented with the access to technology and information that empowers them to act. Millions are reached and organized by 140 characters or less of content. In response to their outcry and public outrage, The Department of Justice is set to spend $20 million on rolling out body cameras for police officers across the nation. But this is largely because of people of color who had the tools to shed light onto police brutality with real footage captured from their own smartphones.

Social Movements. Technology.

There’s something powerful to be said about crowdfunding versus traditional VC backing….self-empowerment through technology and the access it provides to people and information. Fortunately, technology is a becoming more accessible and proving more invaluable. Nielsen reports that Blacks are greater early adopters of new technology than any other ethnic group. Blacks are noted to be more connected to technology as early adopters than the total market.

A New Generation Facing A Familiar Struggle.

On many occasions throughout history people of color have had to evolve to contend and counter the challenges of changing conditions. Chief among them racism and discrimination whose exploits have evolved from chattel slavery to wage and employment discrimination. At all times in history, blacks innovated their thoughts and combative methods to fight for their survival. To prove themselves fit to occupy the space whose ecosystem was never intended to support them. The fruits of these successes lie in the attitudes of the next generation. Today the Black community accounts for over 13% of the total US population. Currently at 43 million, it grew 64% faster than any other major ethnic group since 2010 and has the unique characteristic of being on average 3 years younger than its counterparts. 53% of the Black population is under 35, 25% is between 18–34.

Young black millennials occupy a space in time where they are young enough to remain vulnerable to discrimination and yet empowered enough to demand that it be a condition that no longer contextualizes their existence. This is not a struggle they feel they should be contending. Instead they believe their environment and not them should have evolved to accommodate their existence. When discrimination has attempted to victimize this generation as in times past, this generation innovated its approach to contending with it.

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