This Fresh Take interview featured Chike Aguh, Chief Innovation Officer & Senior Advisor for Delivery, United States Department of Labor. JB and Chike discussed opportunities for collaboration among private sector and government employers to support and grow inclusive & diverse skilled workforces.
Hosted by JB Holston. Produced by Jenna Klym, Justin Matheson-Turner, Christian Rodriguez, and Nina Sharma. Edited by Christian Rodriguez.
Learn from leaders doing the work across the Capital Region and beyond. These conversations will showcase innovation, as well as history and culture across our region, to bridge the gap between how we got here and where we are going.
About our guest:
Chike Aguh is the Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Department of Labor. He is also a 2020-21 Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights where he will focus on the future of work and its impacts on racial equity. Previously, he has served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Taskforce on the Future of Work, inaugural Future of Work Fellow at the International Society for Technology in Education and expert advisor to the American AI Forum.
Previously, he worked as an education policy official under the Mayor of New York, 2nd grade teacher and Teach For America corps member, Fulbright Scholar in Thailand researching education and skills, director of corporate strategy at the Advisory Board Company’s higher education arm, and CEO of a national social enterprise which helped connect 500,000 low-income Americans in 48 states to affordable internet and digital skills. He is a Partner at Maryland-based Inncuvate which grows innovation businesses and ecosystems, particularly in communities that need them most.
Chike is a 2017 Presidential Leadership Scholar; Council on Foreign Relations term member; 40 under 40 honoree from the Wharton School and Washington Business Journal; past member of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Alumni Board of Directors; and Advisory Board Chair of the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund. Chike and his work have been featured at or in the White House, Harvard, CNNMoney, Forbes, Wired Magazine, and Fast Company. Chike lives in Glenn Dale, MD with his wife and their son.
Chike Aguh 0:00
Innovation is a new way of doing something done at scale for a purpose.
Chike Aguh 0:05
So it's not just technology, but its process its people, its partnership, how, what is a new way of doing something that for a purpose that actually matters.
Nina Sharma 0:20
Welcome to fresh. Take a candid interview series featuring thought leaders and innovators from across the capital region, these one on one conversations, highlight the incredible work happening in our communities, and showcase both where we are and where we are going as a region.
JB Holston 0:38
I am delighted to have as our guest this week, cheeky guru, Gk thank you very much for joining us today.
Chike Aguh 0:45
Thank you so much for having me. Great. Let me give folks a little bit of background about you. And then I'd like to talk a little bit as one of our first questions about the journey that you've taken to get to where you are, because that's always a fascinating topic for everyone.
Chike Aguh 0:59
And but I'm particularly glad we're having this conversation right now you and I spoke a little bit about it a few minutes ago, because future of work, future of labor, return to work, those are all there couldn't be a more critical set of questions for everyone right now. So we're delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you. Thank you again. My Way backgrounds for folks who don't know, Chica is the Chief Innovation Officer for the US Department of Labor. I think that wins the best title ever, in federal government. So that's terrific. And you've been in that role. I know for the past few months. Prior to that she caved on everything that it was possible to do. But among those things are that he has a BA in political science from Tufts and, and an EDM master's degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education and education policy. Also an MPa from Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. And all of those done by the time he was 18. So congratulations on on all of those. Previously, chichay was an education policy official working for the mayor of New York, a Fulbright scholar in Thailand, the Director of Corporate Strategy at the Education Advisory Board, CEO of a national social enterprise and senior principal and future of work lead at the McChrystal Group A couple of other points that I wanted to make sure folks know cheeky about you as we roll into the conversation. That is that you've worked to emphasize the importance of making high paying jobs accessible to individuals impacted by the modernization of the workforce and implementation of new technologies and automation. I think that's been a theme for the work you've done, you've done everywhere. Gk was a 2017 presidential leadership scholar and a 40 under 40 honoree from both the Wharton School and Washington Business Journal. One of the pieces of work that I know you've been involved in Chico, if we have a chance to love to talk about as well was the the role of community colleges to rectify some of the obstacles that exist in the current system for gaining employment. Obviously, right now that's a that's a really critical topic and your your work around the creation of the community college growth engine fund, obviously is centered you in that work. So we're delighted to have you here. Thank you again, for joining us Gk.
Chike Aguh 3:12
No, thank you so much, JB and the entire Greater Washington partnership team for having me. And I just want to say one thing about the Greater Washington partnership. And I think I remember when you all were first starting up, the idea of what is Greater Washington to pay depends on who you talk to you to find it really broadly, from Baltimore, all the way down to Richmond, and I'll say when me and my wife came to Prince George's County, which is where we are on now for almost a decade, we moved to Laurel, Maryland, the day after we got engaged. My wife is a is a is a Now recently promoted associate professor at Johns Hopkins. She's working in Baltimore, I worked in DC initially at that time, then went to go work for General McChrystal, and Alexandria, Virginia. And what you see is all these lines of the county state lines are still very important. I'm a proud Prince d'origine. But there are other lines that also matter. And this line is going to Greater Washington, how we work together across this entire region as a whole regional process on many problems is so important. And you all have done, it's been so critical. That's Um, so just thank you all for what you do, and making sure that we have, at times we lift our heads up from our particular jurisdiction and look at how we can work together particularly on things around workforce labor, and how we create a future of work that includes everyone.
Chike Aguh 4:19
Great. Well, thanks for that very much. Appreciate it. And I think I think the, the founders of the partnership, when they created it, were thoughtful that they would try and see how well it worked. And I think the good news has been that folks have really rallied around to that view that you know, the more we can do collectively, the more impact we'll have.
Chike Aguh 4:39
Chike Aguh 4:41
Great. Well, let's, let's dive in. And, as is the case, in all of these conversations, this will go in lots of different directions, I'm sure. But let me start. If I can cheat a little bit about your background. Yeah. Let's talk about how you got to where you are. What took you through the various places you've been? And then I wanted to talk a little bit about what you found differently now that you're in the federal the federal government cuz you've got a unique, you've got a unique background having been in all of those places.
Chike Aguh 5:13
Sure, um, I say this a lot, but I think it's a phrase I stole from President Clinton. But we are all prisoners of biography. And so I'm very who I am now is very much dictated from whence I calm and so for, you know, for those of you who know me, you know, my family is a very classic immigrant story to this country. So my family, my forebears are from a village in the southeast of Nigeria is so small that most Nigerians themselves will never go there and will and will never visit my grandparents, all four of them, none of them went past Middle School. My parents who grew up there, my father, one of nine, my mother, one of 11, they grew up with Peace Corps volunteers in their classrooms. In fact, you can, if you go to my father's house, you can see my mother's house over the hill, it's not that big a place. And what changed life for them was they got to come to United States to come study of students, my mom, and my dad both went to public universities, my dad in Texas, my, my mom at Rutgers. And without education and economic opportunity, I literally wouldn't be here this very bluntly. And so the thing that I think I've got in my career is this kind of little thing in the back of my head, knowing that I'm not here in this amazing position. Good thing. I mean, think about this, my grandparents and go back to middle school, I'm sitting here as a presidential appointee talking to you, that is an amazing journey for a family in the course of a generation really. And the question is, how do we replicate that for more people? Because we know by the odds that is unlikely, particularly in America at this point? And so the question has always been, how do we make sure that it's not simply a matter of luck or chance, but that everyone has the ability to do what my family has been able to do? And I'll say partially because on one side comm if you think about what, you know, has led us here it was it was it was education, economic opportunity. So I think, as a conceptual problem, I think I've always had in my head even I couldn't put the words to it. How do we use skills and education to basically thread this needle of economic competitiveness, and social justice and equity and and that those things don't have to be at cross purposes. In fact, they're inextricably linked. And so whether it's me as an education official, almost 20 years ago, and the nation's largest school system, whether it was me as a teacher, working, literally a second grade teacher and and in New York City, all the way to the work I've done through industry in the nonprofit space work on the digital divide. So the work I do now, it's all about how do I replicate for other families that what I did for myself, and in my head, one of the hugest biggest levers is our skills, and again, targeted to how you create economic opportunities and social justice. And there's no better place to work on that, on that constellation of issues in the US Department of Labor is why I was jumped at this chance to be able to work with again, Secretary Walsh and our new Deputy Secretary, Julie Sue from the state of California, who were really excited to have I just got to kind of meet her today, but that's what really brought me here. And there's one other thing that I'll say, and it's something that I sale, and a lot of talks they give about this, which is you'll hear President Biden talk purely about COVID, about having a whole of government approach. And I'll tell you being in the government, that's very true. We we are we are working on this. But I always go a step further with a lot of these problems, which is we need a whole of society approach. One of the things I think I came to very early in my career was that if government could fix it by itself, if the private sector could fix it by itself, if nonprofits could fix it by itself, whatever the it is, it would have been fixed already. And so in the end, we've got to come together across sectors, and not just say, what should you do? What should but what should I be doing at this time? And again, one of the things I appreciate with her Watson partnerships, you will take that multi sector approach, because it's the only thing I've seen that actually solves problems for people who really need it.
Chike Aguh 8:43
Yeah, that's great. Well, I appreciate that. And, and the the passion comes through in in the comments, which is, is critical. Let's talk a little bit about your specific role. Because, you know, I was I was joking a little bit, but that's a really interesting title to have within the federal, federal government. I know, you know, I know you did a lot of innovation work in a lot of different contexts. So it certainly seems like a logical thing for them to ask you to focus on. But talk a little bit about how does that work? What, you know, what, how does a rule work?
Chike Aguh 9:15
It's a great question. So let me zoom out a little bit. Let me talk about the US Department of Labor. And what's interesting is, as someone who was kind of in the future of work, labor, I suppose was for a while, um, I came late to an understanding and really a full knowledge of the Department of Labor. And so the department labor is over 100 years old is tied up with the Wilson administration. The incarnation that we know today was really created by that time the first female member of presidential cabinet Francis Perkins. It's why we named the building after her. And if you look at the current labor does three things. First, as we provide really clear labor market information, those of my colleagues bill beech, who runs the Bureau of Labor, statistics, six as well as my colleagues who put out information, statistics and all that we are the best in the world. That if you put us in a census together we create probably the false picture of the of the American population that you you'll you will find we're really proud of it lucky to was what we call workforce investment. And this is where worker training is where workforce development dollars are. This is also where things like unemployment insurance, some immigration programs like h1, b, h, two H, two B, trade adjustment assistance, things like that, how do we invest in the American workers so that they have the skills and the wherewithal to get the jobs to create the economic destiny that they choose? Thirdly, is worker protection, how do we make sure that once a workers on the job, they are respected, they are protected, they are dignified, and also that they're advancing, they're not subject to discrimination that slows their progress in their chosen job, or career, those are the three things that labor does, if you look at bucket two, that's probably slightly over half the budget. If you look at bucket three, that's actually slightly more than half of the people. Unlike many agencies, we know the majority of our people are not in DC, they are swept across 73 offices across this country, in businesses. These are OSHA inspectors, make sure that workplaces are safe. These are my colleagues at the Mine Safety and Health Administration inspecting all 13,000 American mines four times a year to make sure that we don't have miners dying on the job. So that's the Department of Labor. And when people think of the federal government, one word they usually don't put there is innovation. But if you look at the history of the Department of Labor, and when you go back to Francis Perkins, and when she said, we are going to abolish child labor, that was you may as well have said the sky was green, when she said that, and we did it. The minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workman's compensation, these were all huge innovations, an app that I had never been built before. And I would argue the Department of Labor is does what it does, and has made the difference that it has because of its innovative capacity. And so the question is, how do we make sure that we don't forget that? How do we make sure that we remember that and now think about Okay, as Francis Perkins did back then at the dawn of the Great Depression? How do we look at where we are now and say, What are the things that may not exist now that we have to create, to go forward? And so I get to sit and think about that, particularly in terms of how we use the level of technology, new practices to help do some of that. And so what's my function lifehacks, about 11 years old, the deputy secretary to whom I report in the Obama administration, created this role. And initially, it was kind of a you went and you and my predecessor Javier Hughes's, a deep mentor of mine, good marylander, as well
Chike Aguh 12:25
did amazing work that is set to set a foundation role is not filled in the last administration. And so this role is brought back in this administration. And so I see my job is really three things. Number one, I work with our 20 enforce it, but first, before I say my job, let me let me let me say something you didn't ask me, Jacob, I think it's important. What is innovation. And I use a definition of an old boss of mine, Jim Shelton, who I'm sure many of folks are on this call know, who is it was previous Deputy Secretary of Education. Um, innovation is a new way of doing something done at scale for a purpose. So it's not just technology, but its process, its people, its partnership, how, what is a new way of doing something that for a purpose that actually matters? And so when I think about that definition, and the toolbox of things that we have, like data, like technology, like best practices, cutting edge things, I now say, Okay, what am I What do I do with that toolbox? bucket? One is I work with our component sub agencies, to help them do their job and do it better and do it faster. That's on everything as big as unemployment insurance, where I spend a lot of my time currently hot topic, particularly in the state of Maryland, very, very recently, all the way to things as targeted as how do I work with the TAP program, which is, which is the Transition Assistance Program for veterans who are exiting and help them have better job matching? Or how do I help our Wage and Hour inspectors who make sure that workers are paid what they're supposed to be paid, make sure that we can, frankly, help them find violations before they might happen if someone is deprived of wage. bucket two is what are some administration level or department level priorities. And again, we can apply that toolbox to and so as we think I spend a lot of my time think about data, how do we make sure that we that we know what's happening with the people who go through workforce development that we are funding, we want to make sure that we're investing in success and not failure, and we want to make sure that frankly, when someone has ever dislocated from work, we can put information in their hands so that they can they can find the the training opportunities, they're gonna be best for them for where they want to go, just as one example. And that's something that I know the administration is also very, very committed to. And then lastly, how do we invest in our in our own people within the four walls of labor to increase the innovative capacity or in many ways when I think about unlock the innovative capacities and so many of the people who work within the four walls of our agencies so that's what I think on a regular basis. There's No two days are alike. The only thing that that's a like about any days is that I am in this room. For for most people beyond that, though, The span is really, really wide. And the thing that I think about is every single day, what did I do today that is going to allow a worker to find a job more easily stay in a job more easily prepare for the next job more easily, or while they're on that job. They are, they are, they are safer, they're more dignified, they're more they are more protected. That's kind of my North Star. And again, at a macro level, if I did my job, while I said, hopefully, it's, I've made it easier for someone's mom, or someone's dad, or someone's spouse or someone's grandfather, to make to enable a transition like happen in my family, hopefully, someone's in a better economic place so that their kid can say, hey, my dad didn't go past middle school because of something that this administration, did I sit in a very different place than I would have otherwise. Yeah,
Chike Aguh 15:41
that's great. Well, thank you for sharing that Chica. Are there comparable positions in each one of the departments or agencies at this point is there
Chike Aguh 15:50
I'm there, I'm there? The answer is there are people who think a lot of the same things, their titles are very different. Some people are senior advisors for this, or senior advisors for that. But um, one of the things that happened at the beginning of this administration, I also have something called the senior advisor for delivery, which basically thinks about how do we make sure that for all the policy that we write the we're able to deliver the final effects of it to, to the American people. And so there's one of them. And you can see, we sit in different places, we have different bosses, but we all think about a lot of the same questions, how do we achieve the goals, use the innovation toolbox to do it, and really, in the end deliver? You know, one, one thing I think about is, if you're looking at almost any American benefit, whether it be TANF, whether it be free or reduced price lunch, you will usually have far fewer people accessing that benefit than are eligible for it. And that's not their fault. That's our fault. And so the thing that I think about is how do we make sure that we reach far more people that we, we mean to, to right now. So for example, if you think about the child tax credit, which is just rolling out right now, across the district, and parts of Maryland, we want to make
JB Holston 16:58
an amazing accomplishment, by the way, I mean, it's extraordinary that that's, I can no way
Chike Aguh 17:02
take credit for many of many other parts of government, but it's gonna make a huge difference, not just for those children, but their parents in their families. But we want to make sure that everyone can access it. And what you see is usually people who are people of color immigrants poor are the least likely to access this. And so I have colleagues right now working on how do we reach what you call the non filer population, so that they can get so they get, because they're gonna want to be the ones who benefit the most. But it's gonna require us to think differently. And in some ways, for those of you who are in the technology space, using bit of Human Centered Design, to think through, how do we see this system from their perspective, and get distribution methods that reach them, there's someone who was in industry, what I, as someone worked in product development, I always remembered, the hardest part of any business that I ever worked in was distribution. It wasn't actually the manufacturing, it wasn't actually the delivery of the product, it was the actual distribution, how do I reach the customer in the end for us and customers, the American worker and the American people in the American American families? And so that's one example. So they're people like me who think about this in every part of government. But then the question is, what's their title? And in the end, what you find is, counter intuitively, I think titles matter less than at times, they they believe, I'm lucky to have an amazing role within it with with an amazing team. But from whatever point that you sit within an organization or even within a government, how do you use that to again, advance things so that people that you came there to serve? Right?
Chike Aguh 18:29
Supriya Megan Smith, a former CTO under Obama, rancor was a good person. Yeah, I say she's wonderful. And but I know then there was a lot of that was, that was a big push to try to get innovation, innovation, thinking, design thinking, etc. Everywhere fast and throughout the government. And it's great to have that back. I think so. So kudos to you for taking that role. I wanted to talk a little bit about we touched on the future of work. And we think a little bit about this. But if you think about the pandemic, and you think about, you know, what we all assume the future of work would look like two years ago, versus what we think the future of work looks like today. How do you think the pandemic has affected the future work? It's a small question. She
Chike Aguh 19:15
know. So yeah, we can tackle the meaning of life after that. Let's talk about future of work before the pandemic because I actually don't think the answers are too different. If I if you think about what are the things that this future of work phenomenon I remember when I was invited to be on a taskforce on the future of work at Council on Foreign Relations, we have to define what the quote unquote problem was. And I one can argue that three kind of parts of it first. There are first there are jobs that just because of replacements of technology may not, you know, may not be around. So they'll be there'll be some technologies that obviate certain certain jobs. That's one, you have to have technologies that will change certain jobs, that jobs still exist, but it'll be difference. And the question is how do the people who do the job before do it after. And then there's a third one, which we have to name, which is, there are choices that we have made about, frankly, how labor and capital relate. And frankly, that and generally labor and instead of Department of Labor hasn't always come out on the right side of that. And some of those things in terms of disinvestments in things like workforce development, like training, like our higher education institutions, as an example, we are really all those things coming together, they reap a whirlwind. If you have, technology is going to obviate certain jobs, it's not just gonna change certain jobs, and you disinvested in the things that would help prepare people, as well as frankly, you haven't incentivized other parts of the economy on the capital side, to think through how to do that you reap the whirlwind. And so one cannot. And so that was a problem before and I would argue, frankly, what COVID did is it exposed in an expanded those trends, we have seen a dramatic increase in the adoption of technologies, we had no choice, because we had to keep people safe. A number of jobs have changed even faster than they would have otherwise, we just have to use more technology. One can look at reports like the digital blind spot report that the Markle Foundation was talked about this. And then thirdly, the impact of those in disinvestments. And those lack of incentives on the capital side, we also reap the whirlwind. We saw in terms of whether it be layoffs, whether it be how people did or did not take care of their of their workers bring all that together? I would argue we're not in a different place. We're in a sped up place. And so the question is, and you hear prison balances a lot. It's not about going back to what we had. It's about how do we rethink what we had and build something better going going forward for ourselves and for our children? And so when I think about the future of work of how you deal with that, that problem, to me, it's there five questions. And folks who have heard me say this before, I apologize for the broken record here. First, it's how do you identify the work of the future? What is that work going to be? And what you see here, and I can go through the industries and all that, but one is, the answer that question is usually very place based. depends on where you are. New Orleans is not the grid is not it's not the Greater Washington area. And we and you have to recognize that. And the Greater Washington area is not frankly, Allegheny County in Western Maryland. What are the jobs the future, not just at an aggregate level that we can do? My colleagues at BLS do that really, really well, for Prince George's County, Maryland? What are the jobs that are growing, we have to be that specific, because that's how people live. Number and the other thing that I'll say there is what you're seeing in terms of growth is this is the intersection of technical and what we what we broadly call softer skills. Those are the jobs that are growing things like user experience. That's a combination of, frankly, coding, and also frankly, design and art. The to do that, that's that that intersection. So I've always said this debate about technical skills versus liberal arts, I think it's a misnomer. It's a Hobbesian choice. I think it's not it's nonsensical. If you look at where the growth is, you actually need both. And there are lots of ways to get that. But that's the list goes on. So that's bucket one. bucket two is how do you prepare people for that work of the future? And go into what I said previously, how do you make sure people have the technical skills, the soft skills, 21st century skills, essential skills, and increasingly, the digital skills to be successful? And particularly when you look at the workforce, and opportunities that are available, particularly to people who are, who are again, people of color poor immigrants, women, we don't always hit all three of those. And in many ways, we know those who who face the greatest barriers to getting into the labor market. bucket three, which is really important if you don't think enough about how does the worker in the work find each other? Meaning there are jobs that are open. And there are people who can do those jobs, so they don't find each other. And there are lots of reasons for that. Some of those reasons are, frankly, we just, we have not done some of the right skilling. But I'll be honest, if you look, I always use this example. If you were to look at the
Chike Aguh 24:02
MGM National Harbor, when it first opened, they had jobs that needed to be filled and not necessarily at the the most unique, skilled part of the spectrum. And I can tell you in Prince George's County, we definitely have people who need to work, but and they and those people, those people in those jobs route 35 minutes apart. When they find each other. It's really hard if you don't have a car to go from Suitland, Maryland to National Harbor as an example. So you have actual structural barriers usually that impact them, the least among us, that keep them from those jobs. And then thirdly, which is the someone who can do the job shows up but because they don't have the necessary credentials, the traditional credentials and background you can't recognize that they can do the job and therefore you deny them. And let me say a three a there at times, which is based discrimination, which is we have someone frankly, isn't it they don't come from where you come from. They don't look like you so on so forth. You keep them out of the job. All of that together, keeps jobs open. Which which is which puts the economy because everyone, every one of your business colleagues knows the cost of having an open job for 30 6090 even days beyond that, and I think about my colleagues that I'd opportunity at work, you know, Byron, and his whole team, they've done the math, there are 10s of millions of workers with the skills they have, can gain can can make 1000s of dollars more each year, but because of the structural barriers in the economy, the worker and the work can't find each other bucket for is how do we have a system of benefits. It's not just economics, a social safety net, but an economic trampoline, that doesn't just catch you, but actually gets you back into the market. And so these are things about things like reemployment services, these are things about, about how do we make sure that again, those benefits actually can support someone and actually help them get back to what I just need that that they want to? And then fifth, once someone is on the job, how do we ensure that they are respected, protected, dignified, and advancing? The question of, you know, how do you have someone who starts the equivalent wherever the mailroom is, I'm not sure if they're still mail rooms, in a lot of companies, but whatever that is, that they have that they can get to the C suite. How did how did we meet? How do we make sure that, frankly, that that group of people who actually do that look like the general population, so those are the kind of five big questions to tackle the future of work. And to be honest, I think they were the same five questions before, but they're all way more urgent now, because of what COVID has exposed and expanded. And I think the danger here is in this moment, when COVID hopefully subsides and passes on every day that we lose someone due to COVID is a preventable tragedy, and it is truly a tragedy. But there will come a time when COVID is not frankly not been the cloud over our whole society that it has been for the last 16 months. The question is there is a will we simply go back to what was was a deep problems. And in fact, in some ways made it harder for us to fight COVID? Or are we going to rethink what was before and do better? And I think I work for Joe Biden. And so I think you know my answer, but I think that's purely for the businesses that you that you that make them a lot of your membership, a lot of your your constituency, that's the big question. And in terms of building something better, it's not simply a moral imperative, which I believe it is, it is an economic imperative, because it actually, in some ways, was economically inefficient, to do what we were doing before, particularly in terms of making sure that of having huge parts of society not have access to the best of the best paying jobs, and frankly, for companies will have access to their talent.
Chike Aguh 27:27
Yeah, I think the data is clear, you know, that, we talked about the the biggest ROI opportunity for this region to be the most inclusive and equitable region in the country. And to just dedicate itself to that, as a proposition, it is, as fraught as that path is, it is a lot more straightforward than, you know, then then cold fusion, or
Chike Aguh 27:50
rocket science, it's not rocket science, it's harder than rocket. So
Chike Aguh 27:53
that's, yeah, we got it, we've got to go, we got to go do the work. For sure. Let's talk a little bit about the education system. If we can ci K and go back to a community colleges for a moment, you know, there is a there's been a long conversation about the role of various kinds of educational enterprises. And, and I, you haven't been a former dean, etc, I would argue that the conversation is in some ways, not clear today than it was 510 10 years ago, that, you know, we've got, we've got certainly the rise of alternative kinds of credentials, we've got a lot of conversation about things like apprenticeships, the European model, the Swiss model, the German model, lots of different efforts out there to provide alternative approaches for people to land career jobs, and then get supported for those career jobs. And on the other hand, you know, there's still a ton of rhetoric about if you don't have a four year degree, you know, you're you're, you're never gonna enter the middle class, you know, you're not, you're not going to get there. And, and I think, you know, the businesses have a bit of a tough time with the breadth of positions on that, because, you know, they're just not structured in a way that they can say, Great, we'll deal with all of the above. And, and manage all of those opportunities in a way which really then does create career opportunity for everyone that we bring in from all of those different places. How are you thinking about about that, and the roles of the various kinds of educational establishments in in the future of work, which I think as you point out, is kind of right now.
Chike Aguh 29:21
as we can, I mean, everyone has a role to play here. It's fun. I mean, we have regular conversations with our colleagues of the Department of Education at the Department of Commerce. And let me let me start with from the perspective of the student slash the worker from Jimmy Mayer. So this was here from Lumina news. He was the learner worker. And when we start from the business, let's start from the business. The place that our business I believe, if you were to ask me, what are the two things that businesses can do, they would make a big difference from an equity and economic reset for themselves. One being super, super clear about the skills you need for a role. I will be honest, I think about my time in the community college growth engine fund. I have sat with businesses With two people from the same firm, and put a position in front of them and tell me what the skills are, and then you get different answers. And I've always said businesses at times overestimate their clarity to the market about the skills that they need. And it is a deep exercise that needs to be done, and not simply the technical skills. But also the, again, those soft essential skills, those digital skills, if you for those of you who are familiar with tea profiling, we look at all the dimensions of that job doing that and being clear prompting them on a regular basis. It's really hard. But that's a clear thing. then number two, when that talent shows up with those skills, how have you reformed your hiring processes so that you can recognize that, and that is the deep, deep work of companies like IBM? All right, where do I actually need a college degree. And the one thing I've said is, if you're going through that process of re examining your hiring process, and you know, something uncomfortable, you're probably not thinking hard enough, but how you bring in talent. Once you've done those three things, it becomes much easier to evaluate the options that are available in the entire educational landscape. Let me now let's go to the learner worker, I'll be very honest, the learner worker, whether they're getting skills at a community college, whether they're there, whether they're, they're getting skills at a boot camp, I would like to go somewhere economically, and I will go to wherever I can, that is the easiest place to acquire those skills. So these lines that we have between traditional higher education and boot camps, I'm not saying that they that they are meaningless. They're not. But they're neat, but there needs to be far more coordination, as well as permeability and transferability. Across all those domains. And what I've seen in community colleges actually is in some ways, I think they're at the cutting edge of that level of coordination. I think about my hometown community college president, Dr. Felicia Williams in Prince George's, she talks about this a lot, which is in the end, I need to deliver for that student. And whether it's me or someone else. And if you look at community colleges on the noncredit side, the houses are more most workforce development is they're experimenting with this type of coordination all the time. And so for businesses, I would say, what are exactly what are the skills that you need and being precise? And how have I changed my hiring practices? And then for the learner worker, okay, look, we know they're gonna go for where the skills are, if you are a provider, whether you're a community college or non traditional, how are you communicating what skills you provide? And also, what is the promise you are making? We're seeing more and more community colleges and most and most successful providers saying, I'm not just going to get you skills I can take you to where you say you want to be, economically, a job interview, something like that. And how do we get closer to that place? Because I think the worst thing and we think we've all seen it is for someone who's pretty down and out, to go through a program and come out and not have a path to where they want to be. And so those are two things I really have folks think about and everyone's got a role to play there. And I think community colleges are by cooking by crook, figuring this out and in some better than others, but I will but you know, to shout out some folks who I think are doing an amazing job for Prince George's, you know, Community College, some really interesting models in places like Indiana for places like Ivy Tech. I know, JB I'm sure you have many, many more as well. But the question is, how do we send around the needs of the business, the needs of the really the learner worker in the center, and then have Community College and deep co design with each of those stakeholders build what they need? And how do we make sure this is one thing that you do see in the data? How do we make sure that we have optional maximum optionality for that learner worker meaning, let's say learner worker comes, they get some credits, which allow them to have a short term credential, which allows them to go get a job, that learner worker comes back and says, I want to get a two year degree? How do we make sure that that what they did the first time wasn't wasted time?
Chike Aguh 33:49
And that sounds easier than that? It actually is. But that's a question for higher education to figure out. And what we know is particularly that that's an option that a lot of people of color, women, immigrants, people who are older just don't have. And so from an equity perspective, and also from an efficiency perspective, how do we make that possible? And also how do we recognize the skills that people are already bringing to the to the table and just codifying those. We see this a lot with veterans, we have a lot of veterans coming back into the workforce. And because the market isn't quite recognized what they may have done in the service, they don't recognize that skill. I will tell you from the young men or women that I've gotten to meet who have come out where I've worked, who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, other places in the world, they bring tremendous skills, many of them qualitative, many of them essential to leadership and communication. How do we codify that and not send them back somewhere, when instead they could be out in the market actually making a difference for themselves, their families and for our business?
Chike Aguh 34:43
Yeah. I appreciate that. I think one thing we thought we thought we've got initiative here you may be familiar called colab. And it was all you know, we created an employee signalling system which is very much along the lines of you mentioned it was really getting the employees around, say look, if you're talking about machine learning, whatever it may be, you're talking about kind of a sufficient k Ability a sufficient credential, short of a minor, sort of a major sort of any of those things? What are we talking about and specific enough, and I think one of the things that I that I would call out on on on the part of business is the point you raise, which is if, if their hiring mechanisms don't then reflect the same position that they took with respect to the skill acquisition, you can all go for not, you know, it's not it's not enough to say, those are the credentials you need. If at the point at which someone presents those credentials to you, you don't on an equity basis, a great you know, come on in, you are an equivalent candidate, to anyone from from any other source. And I think the other, I really just reaffirming what you were saying, I think the other thing we're finding is that, yes, it's one thing for higher education establishments to recruit from a broader and more diverse population, it's also, you know, great to have organizations do the same, if they're not prepared to go beyond the hiring, go beyond the offer of admission, and provide all the things that are required to ensure that there is the appropriate kind of social connectivity, the appropriate kind of networking, the appropriate kind of thing, it can also still fail. And then when I think organizations were fighting it, aid organizations are still grappling with, with that, with understanding that that is all part of how to succeed on this on this journey.
Chike Aguh 36:17
Absolutely. And in some ways, I think, in the last 10 years, as the labor market, frankly has gone up and down to being you know, I think about 2008, horrible, to becoming super tight to then kind of where we are now. This is, I remember, when I went to college, I didn't quite ask if I was going to get a job afterwards, I went to college in 2001. I didn't think about that I assumed the economy was gonna take care of me. And I'll be and I'll be honest, that's probably a wrong assumption. And I think, frankly, you're really younger people today. And at times I just go to work, I've seen the I won't just take care of me. And so if I'm gonna invest the time and the money to get an additional credential, how is that going to better position me. And by the way that just happened to colleges, they're asking this of the boot camp down the street of the local community based organization, because that's time I think about if you're taking away time from your family from a job to do this. There has to there has to be an ROI there, particularly for folks who, frankly, aren't coming from a lot.
Chike Aguh 37:15
Yeah. I mean, she gave you think about back to the Department of Labor. And you think about, you know, the next the next four years, if there were a couple things you could accomplish, what, what what, what would those be? What are the big because you mentioned some of the really transformative things that the department has historically been associated with what what are the kinds of transformative things in your mind that the department could be associated with for the next few years?
Chike Aguh 37:37
So I've learned not to get ahead of my bosses? And so I think you won't, we won't hold you to it. You will, you will hear I think more about some very large things from our secretary, I think shortly, but let me name a couple of things that i think that i think a lot about that I think would make a difference. And a lot of them are Yes, within the four walls of labor, but also kind of cross disciplinary. I think first, when we think about that safety net to economic trampoline, as we think about things like unemployment insurance, how to make sure that unemployment insurance doesn't just, frankly, help stabilize people, but also connect them to reemployment services. And actually back to jobs. Lots of states are doing lots of versions of this, but behind but how to, in some ways critically after COVID increase the robustness of those services, so that we can make a difference. I think that's one, I think, two, how do we dramatically increase what we know about what happens to people that we seek to help? Meaning when someone goes through a well funded program or trade adjustment? This is what happens to them afterward. And in some ways we find places where we've done really well how do we scale those up and find places where we didn't do well? How do we improve, and that requires us to have a much more robust data infrastructure than we have right now. And in many ways, it also requires us potentially to partner with folks in the private sector, who in some ways, no things that we don't, I would argue to you, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does an amazing job with with what they do. But they're likely things that an ADP and a workday know about the American worker that they don't just because of the differences in data, how do we have some collaborators where we can benefit from data from other sources, what broadly would be called alternative data? And I also think, lastly, how do we take a human centered design approach, put all that information in the workers hands, so if I'm dislocated, I lost my job. Okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna be so and so someone's gonna help me think through where I want to go next one to someone help me plan for where I am right now from a skill and a placement and preparations of how I get there. And then I'm going to get the supports to actually do that. How do we put all that in the workers hands so that they can navigate that path? Because I'll tell you, they're the American workforce has 150 to 180 million people. I can tell you, we don't have that many people at the Department of Labor. They will never be enough people to be able to do that one on one with everyone. So how do we do that and the is where again, data and technology can be leveraged so that a worker can do for themselves. And to be honest, every worker that I have ever ever met, particularly ones who are who are trying to support themselves and their families. Um, we should never underestimate what they're willing to do. But we got to meet them halfway. And when I say we, I mean, the government, I mean, businesses, I mean, they're not the nonprofit space, because every American worker that I've met, they show up. And the question is, are we going to show up to across all of these domains? So I think about those are two things that I really think about one, how do we basically make get a healthy unemployment system become an even more of a reemployment system? I think secondly, how do we have a much better idea of what's happening? And thirdly, how are we putting all that information in the hands of the worker so that in some ways they can make choices that we may not be able to make that we may not be beaten, be able to make for them. And I'll add a point here, which is, again, I think about my time in the corporate strategy and the product development space. And I say this a lot, you would never design a product, without talking to your customer, you wouldn't do it. I would argue to you, for those of us who work in spaces that are in different spaces, we don't always think about that, particularly for those of us who are trying to work on on behalf of others. And so basically, a good friend of mine who used to run a foundation, he talks about this a lot. How do you make sure that the people affected in my case, the American worker, don't just have a voice, but a vote in what we are doing, since frankly, they're the ones who are going to live with those with that. And I would argue, many of the shortcomings that we have here that we have in the in the kind of the workforce development isn't the work protection system, stem from in part, the lack of the inclusion of worker voice.
Chike Aguh 41:40
You mentioned Collaboratory, as a as a mechanism. And we sort of zipped through that. But one of the things that I think we're certainly interested in and I'm sure you folks are thinking about is, you know, Are there areas of the country are there Where can you do alpha beta, you know, testing things? Where can you do the classic Google, you know, you got an alpha version of the product, a beta version product, you never go past it, right, you just stop at beta. But I think one of things certainly we would offer is the partnership is that if we can be a partner in that kind of Collaboratory, across the region, because we are unique in covering a bunch of different jurisdictions, having a lot of different kinds of organizations, as part of what we want to be doing, you know, we want to sort of be out, be able to be that bridge toward these other sectors as a place where things that that we may not all understand well enough can be can be tested, because I review the whole the whole question of the right data about the right individual that is theirs from a privacy standpoint, but is a good reflection of where they really are and what they really need. I think you're going to be tremendous opportunities around that going forward, but it's going to require some real human centered design and some real experimentation to figure out So at any rate, if you need a Collaboratory, partner counter you're you're gonna you're gonna
Chike Aguh 42:55
regret you said that absolutely. And and, and I say this for the greater the Greater Washington region, in many ways has the prom has, I think the promise and the challenges that a lot of the country needs to solve is very, very bluntly, again, I think as someone who comes from Prince George's County, we are a region that is deep with a diversity that's going to define the future of this country, how we can make it make the most of it, dude, and along every dimension, race, gender, class, a disability status, so on so forth. We also have amazing human capital here. I believe last time I saw a figure I think a quarter of people in the immediate Washington area have a postgraduate degree, which is which is unheard of. And I'm also we're developing a lot of really interesting innovations I think about a good friend, Dr. Rachael Ray, who was at the department was at the University of Maryland Department of Sociology, helping to pioneer using xR and VR technology to do upscaling of returning citizens who are behind the four walls. This is one example things have been incubated here in our amazing higher education institutions that can be used to empower and advance the American worker. So I think the power of places huge is there's a particular power in this place. I am in Glendale, Maryland now. And I think we will likely take you up on that offer, and really look for to seeing what that can look like. But I want to go back to where we started, which is, at the Greater Washington partnership, you all have said everyone in this region has something to do here. And I think it's a lesson for the country and that we need a whole of society approach to figure out how we have an economy that is better than what we've had in the past. And that includes everyone. And so I just thank you for the example that you all have set. And I think it's an example that we in the federal government definitely agree with. I'm gonna do everything we can to help to help advance here and also around the country.
Chike Aguh 44:37
Right? Well, look, we're we're looking to we're looking forward to accelerating together. You know, I think the faster we can move forward, the better we'll all be. And I agree with you. I think this region has an extraordinary, unique opportunity that it it is very different and it has the opportunity to be the best by far. And so we're looking forward to working with you. My guest has been she k gu The Chief Innovation Officer for the US Department of Labor, labor, she Kay thanks so much for your time today. It's been terrific. We will connect on collaborating and that Collaboratory and make sure everyone listening to this finds a way to participate. So thanks again for your time.
Chike Aguh 45:15
Thank you so much for for what you're doing. Thank you to all who were listening.
Nina Sharma 45:24
Thanks for tuning into fresh take. This episode was produced by Jenna climb, Justin Matheson Turner, Christian Rodriguez and Nina Sharma. If you like what you heard, share it with your network. For more information and to access all of our podcasts, events and publications, visit Greater Washington partnership.com.