Rebuilding today’s workforce: Governments, nonprofits and tech companies join forces to start recovery now

April 23, 2020 | By Amy Kover

We will not be grounded by COVID-19 forever, but we will be living in its aftermath for years to come. Beyond damage of the disease itself, this global experience will transform how we travel, play and pay for things. And there’s already one major change that is challenging many Americans today: The work we do.

In the last four weeks, 22 million unemployment claims have arrived at state labor offices with more on its way. Americans are in dire need of work. Yet finding a new job is hardly a simple game of connecting the dots. Flight attendants do not magically transform into nurses. Nor do entire industries instantly pivot when struck by a pandemic.

To tackle this daunting challenge, Mastercard announced today that it is joining OnwardUS, a coalition of governments, technology companies and funding partners, including: Bitwise Industries, The Kapor Center, Salesforce, Twilio, Microsoft, Google, Indeed, LinkedIn and Facebook, to launch a one-stop platform that helps puts unemployed Americans — starting in California and Colorado — back on their feet and working.

Part of what OnwardUS does is connect displaced workers with new careers and professional opportunities. Its technology is the brainchild of Shift3 Technologies, which specializes in developing software for social impact. However, building a new resilient workforce at this scale also requires a lot of smart data and deep thinking.

And that is where the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth comes in. As the philanthropic hub of the company, the center brings together Mastercard’s vast array of company resources to drive initiatives for more sustainable and equitable economic growth. “What the center is good at is bringing our academic fellows, our research partners, our nonprofit partners, our own grantees and a network of larger organizations to make a real social impact,” explains Shamina Singh, the center’s president.

Moments after talking to the team at Shift3, Singh sent them “A Roadmap for Growing Good Jobs,” an interactive data visualization produced by the center in partnership with Washington Post Brand Studio and Marcela Escobari, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. The research lays out how cities can assess their strengths, including the skills of their talent pool, to determine which industries and kinds of jobs to focus on to generate jobs in their cities. Similarly, Singh and the center team are tapping into its broad network to connect Shift3 to leading experts working on innovative solutions for workforce development and reskilling.

“The center has offered us this network of otherworldly talent who have all said, ‘We want to move really quickly, rounding up resources and putting our reputations behind a solution,” says Jake Soberal, CEO & co-founder, Bitwise Industries.

Beyond helping with employment, OnwardUS is also working to ensure that displaced workers have access to money, food and shelter to get by. For this, Miguel Gamiño has a plan. He runs Mastercard City Possible, a platform where private and public organizations work together to solve big city problems. Last month, Gamiño helped the city of Los Angeles provide $1.2 million in grocery gift cards to nearly 10,000 Angelenos by distributing donations through City Key, a hybrid ID/payment card that uses Mastercard’s existing network of vendor partnerships and prominent prepaid companies to disburse resources. For fundraising, he leveraged Mastercard Donation Solutions in partnership with fintech partner GoodWorld so that donors could contribute to a relief fund via website, text and social media channels.

Now, his team is collaborating with government and social impact partners to identify experts, organizations and potential funders to increase the efficacy of the platform in each state where the OnwardUS platform is launched.

When California took OnwardUS live in early April, the state expected to reach 10,000 people in the first month. Over 250,000 signed up within a week. Since launching, the online platform has posted more than 113,000 jobs and matched 312,259 users with at least one resource. Need like this demands a lot of funding very fast. In addition to Mastercard’s contributions, Singh will engage other funders to join the effort.

The urgency is real. There’s little time to spare as this pandemic continues to leave crippling economic damage in its wake. And OnwardUS is also eager to restore something else we are keenly missing during these long days of quarantine: a welcoming place to go for support during a difficult time. A place to remind displaced workers that they are not in this alone, nor will they be stuck here forever.

Amy Kover, Contributor