Future of Work | Workforce Development |

Breaking Down Silos to Build Back Better

By Mandana Nakhai | Development Manager

“Recovery” and “build back better” are pandemic narratives that invoke restorative and additive creation. But what if what we need to do first is tear down?  

Both recover and “build back better” narratives are helpful. They push us to think concretely about where we want to go and how to get there. Yet, alone, each is insufficient to capture what is necessary for developing multiple paths to modern careers in a world in which the “college-for-all” narrative reigns supreme. Many initiatives have claimed to bring education and employment together but largely let those silos remain intact.  

Maybe, then, tearing down the silos is the most appropriate work for this particular pandemic moment. 

Recently, Michael Collins made the case that any effort to untangle racial occupational segregation and increase pay equity must be multi-sectoral. Education and training alone cannot overcome the barriers workers of color might face in a biased workplace, for example; achieving economic mobility requires transformative change throughout the entire “learn-and-work ecosystem.” That education and employment coexist within an ecosystem implies their interdependence and inseparability. An ecosystem’s vibrancy comes from complex and authentic interconnectedness, of feedback loops and overlaps, not linearity. As one advocate for industry to collaboratively close the “training gap” puts it, “solutions must be joint.”

Youth apprenticeship is but one offering within such a “learn and work ecosystem,” but it plays a key role in creating and deepening the cross-sectoral relationships that generate and sustain it. By bringing K-12, higher education, industry, students, families and community organizations into a model in which all contribute and benefit, it creates an infrastructure of interdependent relationships. By developing more optionality and points of intersection, it’s changing what each partner views as possible.

The pandemic has made us more aware of the ways in which humans need one another to thrive, as well as the harm that can befall communities when we are divided and isolated. As we accept that the future may never again be “normal” as we once knew it, we may also be realizing that flexibility is not only an asset in an emergency but a hallmark of a resilient and inclusive ecosystem. 

As we turn another corner into another unknown, we’ll surely build something new and devise specific solutions to our challenges. Hopefully, we will also bring down the silos that are stymie collaboration and remember to ground ourselves in the ingenuity and care of the people in our ecosystems. It is through these lived relationships, and not abstract tools, strategies or interventions, that the real work gets done.