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When the Markle Foundation first rolled out its Rework America initiative in 2014, the Great Recession was more visible in the nation’s collective rear-view mirror than it is today. Since then, despite a strengthened economy, the problems Markle identified remain entrenched. Namely, record-low unemployment numbers belie a polarized workforce in which so-called middle-skills jobs—those requiring a certain level of technical expertise, but not necessarily a college degree—are going unfilled. Meanwhile, millions of workers remain stuck in dead-end jobs that don’t pay a living wage or include benefits.
Philanthropy’s attempts to bridge this heartbreaking chasm and upskill the American workforce have been numerous over the past several years, driven primarily by corporate funders keen to promote economic mobility in ways that also address their own future labor force needs. Digital tools and online engagement are among the favored strategies, and we’ve covered several of those initiatives from companies like Google and JPMorgan Chase.
Markle’s Skillful initiative, which grew from its Rework America effort, is another example. Like some of its cousins, Skillful has focused on workforce development in specific places, beginning with Colorado. It has also been a magnet for partners across different sectors. As we’ve reported, it attracted sizable funding from Microsoft Philanthropies last year, in addition to ongoing support from LinkedIn. A host of Colorado nonprofits, along with the state government under Governor John Hickenlooper, have worked with Skillful. And early this year, the initiative rolled out its Skillful State Network, oriented toward policymakers, with sign-on from the governors of 20 states.