Latinx@Work: Preparing for tomorrow's workforce today

By Donna Epps, Verizon SVP for Public Policy and Strategic Alliances

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Far too many people, particularly those in marginalized communities, experience barriers to building digital proficiency, limiting their ability to interact effectively online. Without essential digital skills, people who already struggle to keep up in our economy risk falling further behind. Our country must address this digital skills gap, not only to prevent widening economic disparities but to preserve our nation’s economic leadership.

Broadband connectivity and digital skills are vital to engaging with the world today and to moving our economy forward. We all know that basic digital literacy is necessary to work and learn remotely and access healthcare and other services. But digital skills can also create new career opportunities, allowing workers to move from lower to higher paying jobs. In addition, a digitally proficient workforce increases productivity and our country’s ability to compete abroad. Digital equity – the notion that all individuals and communities must have the skills, technology, and capacity to participate fully in our society and the economy – is fundamental to America’s growth and prosperity.

Fortunately, policymakers recognize the importance of digital inclusion and have made it a national priority. Last year, through the Investment in Infrastructure Jobs Act, Congress made a historic investment of $65 billion to help close the digital divide and ensure that all Americans have access to reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband. As part of that investment, the Digital Equity Act dedicated $2.75 billion to establish programs that promote digital inclusion and equity.

This is a great start. But preparing today’s workers for the 21st century economy will require cooperation and commitment from a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Governments, businesses, non-profits, and educators all have critical roles to play. We are in an economy that demands digital skills, and this need is even more urgent given the current worker shortage.

At Verizon, we’re tackling the problem head on. Working with UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, we helped develop and fund an innovative program, Latinx@Work. This program helps teach core digital and job readiness skills to the Latino community and provides laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots.

To date, Latinx@Work has helped hundreds of participants in nine cities develop and hone their technology skills. The program has connected more than half of participants to jobs or additional educational opportunities. With 29 million Latino workers in the U.S. workforce, assisting this community is critical to advancing our country’s job readiness.

In addition, to unlock the potential of America’s overall workforce, we’ve committed to prepare 500,000 workers for jobs of the future by 2030. To help reach this goal, we developed “Verizon Skill Forward,” a free, online boot camp that provides technical and soft skills training for tech careers through a partnership with Generation, a global nonprofit that offers job training and placement. We’ve also partnered with Jobs for the Future, local community-based nonprofits, and community colleges across the country to bring even more expertise to this program and to extend its reach. Together, we’re teaching workers new digital skills and helping them obtain long-term employment and internships. In 2021, we began offering Latinx@Work graduates an option to enroll in Verizon Skill Forward so that they can continue their path to IT-focused careers.

As the headlines lament the current worker shortage and studies show increased demand for workers with digital skills, now is the time to invest in our labor market to make it more resilient, productive, and inclusive. America’s labor force has made the U.S. one of the strongest economies in the world, and our workers deserve opportunities to retrain and reskill for the future. Investing in our nation’s human capital will not only deliver greater prosperity to families but will ensure that the U.S. remains an economic leader for decades to come.

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