Millions remain jobless, workers are seeking more supports from employers, and business leaders are reassessing how to promote the well-being of their employees, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Public attention on workforce development, economic advancement, and equity has never been higher, and exploring these issues is crucial to creating a more equitable society. Yet many of the words used to describe workforce topics lack common, clear definitions, which can muddy the national narrative.
What do we mean when we say “skills gap?” What’s the definition of an “essential worker?” Do “diverse” and “equitable” mean the same thing—if not, what’s the difference? And how can we employ words more precisely to drive change?
JFF has been working to address this challenge in partnership with researchers and subject matter experts from a group of nonprofit organizations focused on workforce policy and equity issues. Now, in partnership with WorkingNation, we’re excited to share the first draft of our new field guide, designed to serve as an overview of key terms and concepts related to workforce development.
Many of the words used to describe workforce topics lack common, clear definitions, which can muddy the national narrative.
We hope this guide will kick off a conversation about how our use of language shapes the policies and practices that define the world of work. This is particularly urgent in the context of our country’s effort to reckon with the ongoing reality of systemic racism. As we seek to dismantle discrimination and build opportunity for all, critically examining the language we use—and don’t use—must be part of that project.
In addition to JFF’s contributing to the field guide, we’ve launched our own effort called “Language Matters.” The initiative encompasses our ongoing efforts to reexamine the words we use in all of our public content (and our workplace discussions) and develop momentum for more equitable alternatives.
The field guide was a collaborative effort of Opportunity@Work, Strada Education Network, National Fund for Workforce Solutions, Talent Rewire, Whiteboard Advisors, WorkingNation, America’s Promise, Cognizant Foundation, Grads of Life, JFF, National Skills Coalition, New Profit, and SkillUp Coalition. We’re grateful for their partnership.
As we seek to dismantle discrimination and build opportunity for all, critically examining the language we use—and don’t use—must be part of that project.
It’s important to note that the goal of this field guide is not to prescribe universal definitions. Rather, it is to shed light on the way critical terms are (and are not) used by education and workforce experts, so that journalists, advocates, and policymakers can move toward a shared lexicon in the national discourse.
It’s also worth noting that this is a living document—so we’re excited for feedback! We look forward to continued conversation, input, and critiques that can help make the field guide as useful as possible, and help us collectively think about how our words can shape the equitable world we seek to build together.