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By Maegan Vazquez, CNN
(CNN) — The Biden administration this week announced two new steps aimed at placing more Americans into high-quality jobs, dedicating $500 million toward workforce training and unveiling a new toolkit focused on helping employers hire and retain qualified workers.
First, the Department of Commerce this week announced 32 awardees of the Good Jobs Challenge — distributing out a half billion dollars in funding from the American Rescue Plan to workforce training partnerships that the administration estimates will place 50,000 American workers into quality jobs.
And now, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh are launching the Job Quality Toolkit, a document shared with CNN that’s aimed at guiding small- to medium-sized employers on strategies to attract and retain their workforce.
“We have an unemployment rate that’s very low in this country. And what we need to start to focus more on is the quality of jobs, which is good for employers and good for Americans,” Raimondo told CNN. “We have far, far too many Americans who work full time and live in poverty. That’s not good for our country or communities or our economy.”
The administration’s new efforts came ahead of Friday’s latest jobs report, which showed that the US economy added 528,000 jobs in July, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That 3.5% unemployment number far surpasses economists’ expectations and matches a previous 50-year low record.
After consulting with approximately 60 job quality experts, the Department of Commerce developed the toolkit with strategies for employers that go beyond fair wages, with broad recommendations that call on workplaces to adopt practices that assess and prioritize workplace flexibility, safety, equity, diversity, professional development and overall well-being.
The recommendations direct employees to benefits as basic as a 401(k) retirement plan. But they also go a step further tackling a range of issues, like encouraging workers to discuss burnout and suggesting employers make efforts in the on-boarding process to understand a new hire’s pronouns. Additionally, a section on employee unionization suggests employers support workers’ rights to collective bargaining and organizing, also recommending employers inform workers of their right to form a union and remain neutral during organizing activity.
The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the way Americans work, spurring new types of business opportunities, pushing many workers to do their jobs remotely and motivating many employees to reevaluate whether their career path was the best fit. Adapting to those changes hasn’t come without challenges.
Record numbers of Americans have been resigning from their jobs. Employees have been pushed to unionize over their concerns about their health, safety and wages during the pandemic at companies like Amazon and Starbucks. The health care industry is experiencing rates of resignations and burnout so high that the US surgeon general has raised the alarm.
Spurred by these consequential shifts in the labor market earlier this year, Walsh launched the Good Jobs Initiative — a broad framework led by the Labor Department that’s aimed at informing workers of their rights and engaging employers to help them retain workers. The toolkit and the challenge grants are part of the initiative.
“What the pandemic taught us is that the workplace and companies have experienced a lot of challenges over the last few years,” Walsh said in an interview with CNN. “Some businesses were on the verge of going out. Some workers want don’t want to work 9 to 5 anymore. And the toolkit helps us provide strengths to those businesses that can be sustainable moving forward, long term.”
Walsh emphasized that while a successful jobs report is one marker for the economy, he’s also focused on ensuring that the jobs being filled are setting up workers and employers for sustainable development.
“We really have to figure out how we (can) make sure that people … are working on a pathway to a good job, that they’re not just working on a pathway to getting by or just taking a job for the sake of taking it,” the labor secretary said.
At a roundtable on Thursday at the Department of Commerce to launch the new toolkit, representatives for nonprofits, businesses, unions and other stakeholder groups discussed how the new document will be deployed across the businesses and industries within their coalitions.
The toolkit is also expected to be implemented through the DOC’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program, which consults with small and medium sized manufacturers across the country. The toolkit will become part of their regular operations when they discuss talent retention with manufacturers.
At Thursday’s event — which had a long list of participants that included the Small Business Roundtable, the Asian American Chamber of Commerce, Reimagine Main Street and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — Raimondo said she’d like the group to reconvene in six months.
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