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Building pathways to equity: seeding the Better Careers New Fund

Racial equity is integral to the Better Careers initiative, which invests in organizations that provide training and access for Californians looking to move into jobs that offer family-sustaining wages and career paths.

This month we are launching the Better Careers New Fund, an expansion of our grantmaking that explicitly aims to advance racial equity by supporting organizations that are rooted in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities in California. The New Fund will distribute approximately $5 million via our regranting partner, the Amalgamated Foundation, to diverse organizations that are partnering with and accountable to their community to advance equity-driven workforce solutions, create pathways to quality jobs, and build worker power.

Three out of four low-income workers in California are people of color, yet the historical structural and systemic racism embedded in many of the policies, practices, and programs in the workforce system disproportionately affects BIPOC workers, furthering steep racial inequity in the labor market that prevents economic mobility and prosperity.

Even when these workers have training and preparation, they face higher barriers to access middle-wage jobs than their White counterparts, leaving workers of color underrepresented in good jobs (i.e., those that are well-compensated, stable, and resilient to automation). To increase economic mobility for all low-wage workers, particularly BIPOC jobseekers, we need a workforce system that uses equitable practices to eliminate rather than exacerbate barriers to opportunity.

In 2021, as part of Irvine’s racial equity grantmaking, Better Careers made $5 million in grants to organizations, such as Love Never Fails and LeaderSpring, to increase our exposure to and support of racial equity in workforce development. We are now using that learning to embed even more racial equity-focused approaches in our grantmaking to ensure we serve all low-wage workers. For example, we are contributing to the Fund for Workforce Equity, a pooled fund that aims to put workers of color at the center of workforce policy, program design, and implementation.

We know we can and must do more. The New Fund will build on Irvine’s commitment to advancing racial equity by specifically investing in organizations that serve low-wage workers, particularly those of color. It is an opportunity for Better Careers to invest in a wider range of organizations that provide job preparation and wrap-around services to help participants access and thrive in new positions — regardless of whether they define their efforts as workforce development. And we will prioritize organizations with leadership that reflects, and shares the lived experiences of, the communities they serve, and who are building the power and agency of low-wage workers by engaging them in program design, implementation, and decision-making.

We are focusing on Los Angeles and under-funded regions in California, including the Central Valley, Inland Empire, Imperial Valley, Central Coast, Sierra Region, North State, and others. These are areas where residents often represent their community’s strongest assets, yet their needs are not being served by traditional workforce models.

We are grateful to have this opportunity to partner and learn alongside organizations in underfunded communities that are advancing workforce equity by putting the needs and voices of low-income BIPOC workers and jobseekers at the center of their efforts. We look forward to sharing their promising models and solutions with our peers, partners, and the broader workforce development field.