Connecting Potential to Opportunity: Why I’m Passionate about Re-wiring the Labor Market

“Everyone is born equally capable but lacks equal opportunity.”
-Pierre Omidyar

Talent and potential can be found everywhere, but it often goes underutilized because of lack of resources and opportunity. I believe it’s imperative to work towards a more equitable economic system so that everyone has a shot at success. I first realized this when as a teenager, I was fortunate to finish high school and go on to attend college but many capable, smart kids from my town didn’t have that chance. After college, I moved to New York City to join Americorps VISTA working with a nonprofit that taught debate to re-engage high schoolers at risk of dropping out. I watched kids from poor schools in the Bronx debate international public policy with passionate eloquence and go on to win state and national competitions. When given encouragement and an opportunity to develop their intellectual curiosity and drive, they excelled. In my time working at First Place for Youth, I saw formerly homeless youth exiting from the foster care system thrive in their first job and quickly get promoted. In 2012, I joined the SamaGroup to start Samaschool, a job training program that helps low-income people succeed in the digital economy. In Samaschool’s online platform, we have people from 70 countries taking courses to learn digital and professional skills. We worked with community leaders, colleges, businesses and funders to expand the program into diverse rural and urban locations including San Francisco, New York City and rural Arkansas, and Kibera, Kenya. We saw hundreds of students who had never used a computer professionally excel in an 80 hour skills boot camp and find work in the digital economy after graduation.

Untapped talent is everywhere, and creating a more level playing field is an urgent task: one in six Americans live in poverty, there are two million long term unemployed people, and close to six million disconnected youth neither working nor in school. But this is not just a problem for the individuals trying to find work and earn a living; there are millions of people struggling to get work, and at the same time millions of jobs open. Businesses struggle to fill job these openings, dampening productivity and costing the economy roughly $160 billion a year. The challenge lies in finding solutions that address both the scale and complexity of the problem as it stretches across workforce, training, education and employer hiring systems.

To truly equalize opportunity in the labor market and fill open positions, I believe we need updated systems for the way that employers hire and people develop skills and find jobs. Efforts to change these systems are often fragmented, uncoordinated or limited in scope. Advances in technology now make it possible to address this coordination and scale challenge. But technology alone won’t be enough, as successful adoption of new practices and systems will require wide-scale collaboration between workforce development, civic leaders, education and business.

That’s why I am thrilled that this week, I’m joining the team at Opportunity@Work, a non-profit with a mission to bring these two critical ingredients together. By combining the best methods and tools of civic collective action and of technology innovation ecosystems, Opportunity@Work aims to secure a future of robust opportunity in which all Americans can learn, pursue and realize their potential contribution.

Opportunity@Work has made a commitment to supporting the TechHire initiative, which is celebrating its one-year anniversary this week. TechHire is an effort led by communities and their partners to take action to create pathways for recruiting and placing applicants based on their skills and to increase access to tech training opportunities with strong outcomes. This initiative represents a tremendous opportunity to help more Americans realize the dream of better paying information technology jobs to help their families and communities prosper.

In my new role as the Director of TechHire, I’m excited to build on my experience and passion for education, workforce development and using emerging technology to empower and scale impact. I look forward to working alongside TechHire communities and partners to build talent pipelines that enable employers to fill critical open IT positions that exist in every sector in every city and match potential with opportunity. At Opportunity@Work, we have a vision of a labor market where those who have the potential to perform a job successfully have the opportunity to obtain that job. Together, we can work to ensure America lives up to its promise of inclusive economic growth, upward mobility, and equal opportunity.

To Find Out about Opportunity@Work and TechHire: