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Three years ago, I had the honor of joining the Walz-Flanagan administration as Deputy Commissioner of Workforce Development at the Minnesota Department of Jobs and Economic Development. As the state’s premier workforce development agency, the department has a major influence on how Minnesota helps job seekers and businesses grow. In my role, I have made a commitment to ensure that this economic growth is fair to all Minnesotans.
As I leave this job to take on a new role as Senior Democracy and Human Rights Advisor to the Biden Administration, I would like to highlight the accomplishments and progress that the Minnesota Department of Employment has overseen in recent years.
I came to state government from the private sector, where I had co-founded a tech startup, and realized that disruptive innovation requires us all to find new ways to work together. Steve Grove, Commissioner of the Department of Jobs and Economic Development and former Google executive, challenged our agency to seek new ways to serve Minnesotans. His team is bringing real change to our state’s workforce system by prioritizing partnerships with organizations that focus on people who face the greatest barriers to employment.
First, we advocated for and received more state dollars to help Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who have been hardest hit by job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic and who have faced with systemic exclusion from our education and training systems. In 2021, the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s employment and training programs received the highest state funding in history to distribute competitive and direct appropriation grants across the state. Local organizations, nonprofits, and educational institutions apply for these funds to provide training programs and partnerships that lead to well-paying jobs.
Second, we focused on the success of Minnesota workers in three areas of our workforce development system: streamlining our grantmaking process, expanding our outreach operations to connect with more Minnesotans and provide new, innovative online training opportunities.
Over the past three years, the ministry has improved the application process to make grant applications faster and easier. We’ve reduced the time it takes us to process competitive grants, allowing us to get funds into the community faster and increasing our impact.
We’ve made it clear what’s important in a grant application, doubling down on our priorities of equity, innovation and performance. Starting this year, every organization that applies to the ministry for training funds must include its equity priorities, innovative strategies and performance measures. These changes help direct public funds to organizations providing training and services to those who need it most. To include the voice of community members in our grant funding decisions, our grant review teams this year brought in nearly 50% community experts who joined our state staff to make recommendations.
A Key to Progress: Adding Community Representation to a State Agency
We also created the state’s first Deputy Commissioner for Immigrant and Refugee Affairs and engaged Native American and Tribal Liaison to engage in meaningful work with these communities.
Public service is about listening to those who need it most. The Department of Employment and Economic Development has increased its community outreach and engagement to listen directly to job seekers and community leaders. Our multilingual reach has expanded, providing print and video translations. I am grateful to community members who stepped up to invite us to their events and provided interpretation services so that we could share our message and hear people’s stories.
Workers are looking for help online, and that’s where they can get in touch with them
When I was in high school, I watched my mom learn new skills in an effort to get a job, and I saw that economic justice is a human right. It’s about strengthening families and anchoring communities so they have the wealth and resources to grow. Often that means meeting people where they are – and today people are looking for jobs online rather than knocking door-to-door.
So we focused on modernizing our online workforce development tools. During the pandemic, our Coursera initiative paved the way for free online training and credentials for Minnesotans ages 16 and older. More than 12,000 people registered and took 13,000 courses. Many community organizations have been able to use this tool to help retrain Minnesotans for their future jobs.
Additionally, our CareerForce services have transitioned to providing virtual and telephone services, providing needed support to job seekers. We’ve hosted hundreds of online webinars and career counseling sessions and virtually reached over 100,000 Minnesota job seekers one-on-one to help them find roles in the Minnesota economy. This all takes place on a new web platform we’ve launched, careerforcemn.com, designed to guide job seekers through their journey.
I am impressed by the hard work of the people of Minnesota. Many are rebuilding their lives in the wake of this pandemic, much like my own family did as refugees in this country. As I leave state government service, I would like to thank the amazing team at the Department of Jobs and Economic Development who are supporting these hard-working Minnesotans, leading the way to a more inclusive economy.