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Code for America and the Markle Foundation Work to Build a Skills-Based Economy in New Orleans

Local, state, and federal agencies work hard to grow the economic pie through a variety of services. Efforts to bridge the skills gap are among the most important, with billions of dollars allocated toward this work through the federal Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Even with strong growth coming out of the Great Recession, many Americans remain unemployed or underemployed, and employers struggle to find the talent they need to grow.

There are few places where this is more apparent than New Orleans, where a recent report said 52% of African American men of working age are not employed. That’s why we have a team of talented fellows working to better engage job seekers and employers in the public workforce development system in New Orleans in 2016.

A New Partnership

The challenge is daunting. It is also one we cannot afford to leave unaddressed. We’re excited to announce that Code for America and the City of New Orleans have added a great partner in the effort – the Markle Foundation and its Rework America initiative. Markle and its national partners, along with employers, educators and government leaders are building a digital and transparent labor market based on skills. Initially focused on achieving outcomes in Phoenix, Arizona and the state of Colorado, they aim to connect job seekers to opportunities, employers to talent, and training providers to the needs of industry in the rapidly evolving 21st-century workplace. Markle convened a remarkable group of 56 national leaders to inform their effort. The group laid out their vision for navigating the 21st century economy in their collective book, America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age, released last summer.

Building Open Source Technology

The Markle Foundation’s research has shown that middle-skill job seekers are unaware of the educational, training and work opportunities available to them and the skills needed to attain good jobs. The traditional methods employers use to communicate open positions or desired skill sets too often result in filtering out huge numbers of job seekers who could be good matches for available jobs. At the same time, employers struggle to fill middle-skill positions where they cannot identify and onboard qualified talent at a pace needed to meet in-demand industries. The 2016 fellows working in New Orleans will bring their collective expertise in user-experience design and agile software development to bridge this gap.

One important way the fellows will be tackling this challenge is by analyzing job postings descriptions from sources like the New Orleans Workforce Investment Board (WIB). They will be able to use their research to prototype software that identifies bias in job description, through factors such as wording, placement, and inclusion of credentials (e.g. requiring a bachelor’s degree) that may discourage someone with the right skills from applying for the job or pursuing the training programs that would qualify him or her for that role.

Scaling Our Work

Code for America and the Markle Foundation recognize that this challenge is representative of a larger workforce system issue in America, which needs significant improvement and adaptation to the new economy. Yet there are vast opportunities to fix this system-wide imbalance through a smarter and better-informed focus on identifying the skills employers want and connecting job seekers directly to jobs or training institutions that can help them acquire the needed skills. Having dedicated and innovative partners like Markle and the City of New Orleans brings additional passion and expertise to the cause. We’re excited for the fellows’ efforts to be incorporated into Markle’s Rework America initiative in Phoenix and Colorado. Over the next year, we will be sharing key learnings and documenting our progress. Stay up-to-date with our partnership by joining our email list.