Another Push to Help Workers, With an Online Twist

New coalitions and innovations are springing up all over the country to address the challenges facing America's workers, backed by a range of funders. Last week, we wrote about a big effort on jobs spearheaded by Howard Schultz and Starbucks. And yesterday, we wrote about a workforce push in Newark that JPMorgan Chase is helping bankroll. 

Related: Behind a Push on Youth Jobs: A Rising Philanthropist and New Approach to Equity

Well, here's another example of philanthropy taking on the jobs challenge, in concert with other players: the creation of Rework America Connected, announced recently in Phoenix, Arizona. 

This collaborative brings together the leadership of Markle Foundation's CEO Zoë Baird, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, President of Arizona State University Michael M. Crow, LinkedIn Co-Founder Allen Blue, Maricopa Community College System delegates, edX, and a host of other employers in Phoenix. Their goal: make the American Dream a reality by teaching and connecting workers to employers, using online technology.

The Markle Foundation has pledged $50 million to Rework America in order to spur the development of technology that can help job seekers by improving their math, science and technology skills, among other training enhancements. The initiative will also create resources for small business owners who want to connect to qualified employees as well as learn how to scale their services and reach new markets.

This effort weaves together several themes we're seeing in philanthropic work to help workers and build local economies. It's giving a big nod to the importance of STEM in today's workplace; it's seeking to empower individuals through technology and personalized learning; and it's looking to bolster the human capital and other resources that fuel business growth. Many funders work these priorities separately. This initiative connects them in an ambitious way. 

Is it too amibitious? I guess we'll see. There's always a fear with any new online platform that it won't find stakeholders and end up as a ghost town. And, sorry to say, many millions of foundation dollars have been spent to erect such ghost towns.

That seems less likely to happen in this case because of the sharp geographic focus and the range of stakeholders involved. LinkedIn, Arizona State University, edX, and Maricopa Community College System will collaborate to keep Rework America Connected up-to-date and directed toward the needs of its diverse users. Feedback from users will shape the content in order to teach job seekers the skills they need to qualify for specific jobs.

The bigger picture here is that Rework America Connected is a key part of the Markle Foundation’s Rework America initiative, which aims to create solutions to the disruptive changes presented by technology and globalization. Rework America’s 56 members are leaders from across a diverse spectrum who are focused on innovations that create opportunities for Americans in today’s networked economy. It aims to particularly to assist job seekers without college degrees or those with limited education.

As part of their collective thinking and action, Markle’s members recently released a group-authored book, America's Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age, which recommends new ways to navigate the changing economic landscape and offers an agenda for action to create more quality jobs.