For Oregon: It's Labor Day, Let's Reimagine Leadership on Jobs

Sep 2, 2013

Labor Day Stamp - $.03

In 1887, Oregon became the first state in the union to recognize Labor Day. 

A century ago, the US Department of Labor was founded, giving new Secretary Thomas Perez the honor of presiding during its 100th anniversary. This summer, Governor Kitzhaber named a new Workforce Policy Coordinator and head of the Oregon Employment Department

How can these leaders make a difference on workforce issues today?  

Workforce leadership was once about connecting unemployed people to jobs through training – because new skills can help people compete more effectively in the labor market – or by providing unemployment insurance and job search assistance during career transitions. 

This vision is no longer enough. Today’s labor markets are dizzyingly complex. In Oregon, we can work for anyone from anywhere or make our own jobs – many in occupations that did not exist a decade ago. We can TaskRabbit, temp, study, train, intern, apprentice, or Kickstart a new venture – simultaneously if need be. But these innovations have not led to widespread economic security – an indicator on which 31 states rank higher than our own

We must find better ways to work, learn, and prosper. For this, we need leaders from all sectors who can deploy the state’s most significant asset: the ingenuity of Oregon’s 3.9 million residents. 

Here are three ways to start.  

Share intelligence, not just labor market data. We need dashboards more like FitBit and less like spreadsheets, signals that alert us to trends, and filters to help us find information we need to make decisions. Providing data just gives us more work. Sharing intelligence helps make us smarter and could even create whole new labor markets.

Engage us in problem solving, not just policy review. Ask what we are willing to contribute so that young people and veterans can find work, local businesses can secure growth capital, or rural communities can find new sources of prosperity. Ask what ideas or resources we can share and what skills, tools, methods, technologies, workspaces, or other assets we can offer. Coordinate these contributions so problems get solved.  

Experiment. Not with a single pilot program but through small-scale initiatives in workplaces, schools, colleges, and hacker, maker, and other social innovation spaces everywhere. What do internships look like for adults who are changing careers? How can aspiring craftspeople (of all ages) learn through ADX, Hatch, and Stumptown Syndicate (P2PU and Coursera) as well as Portland Community College? How can businesses better engage the 70% of us who are bored at work? How do we get smarter about the currency of skills and learning – through badges, portfolios, or by using open platforms like GitHub or Degreed? The goal is not to build new programs but to find what works and support that until better solutions emerge. 

So, after today's picnics and beach trips (for those who have the day off), let’s do this. Surely it's as compelling as what's already on our Tuesday morning agendas.  

Who's in?


Kristin Wolff is an adjunct researcher with Social Policy Research Associates (Oakland,
CA); owner and co-founder of thinkers+doers, llc (Portland, OR); and a DIY
student of work, social innovation and technology currently at school in Seoul,
Korea. She can be reached at kwolff@thinkers-and-doers.com or @kristinwolff and will return next week. #workoutloud