sanonheadshot__web.jpgThe squeezed middle class received some attention from Washington policy makers last month during a symposium entitled “Building the Middle Class via Community Based Job Training – Workforce Development Organizations.”

Newton B. Sanon, president and CEO of Opportunities Industrialization Center of South Florida (OICSFL), organized the event with OIC of America (OIC) board of directors, its executive management team and OIC CEOs from around the country for a roundtable discussion in Washington with members of Congress, U.S. Senators and Gerri Fiala, deputy assistant secretary of Employment and Training Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Fiala agreed to continue to work with OIC to develop strategies and solicited the network’s feedback on five critical issues.

She wanted to know how OICs work with businesses to know the relevant training needed to give to participants;  how to better align resources so that participants receive comprehensive support for them and their families; how best to spur innovation and promote best practices that can be implemented by practitioners in the field; how to build on the strengths of the apprenticeship model, while making it relevant for industries in the 21st century; and what are measures used to assess OIC’s impact.

Sanson sees skills development and job training as the way to pave a path to the middle class.

“As our nation has an aspiration to build the middle class, we must ask ourselves what are the characteristics of those below the middle class and prescribe a pointed strategy to bring this cohort to realizing vocational skills and in turn earn self-sustaining wages which would bolster the middle class,” said Sanon.

“Particularly in urban communities, this effort requires industry informed vocational training, however, this must be coupled with soft skills and other wrap around services at the grassroots community level, otherwise the separation of the haves and have nots will only widen and further burden this great nation.”

Members of Congress including Rep. Frederica Wilson (D) of Florida, heard his plea. She reiterated her commitment to keeping the conversation going about jobs in Washington.

“I came to Congress with a simple mantra: Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! To live up to that mantra, I have gone to the floor almost every day we’re in session to talk about the need for comprehensive jobs legislation, I have cofounded the Full Employment Caucus, and I have sponsored legislation including the American Jobs Act of 2013 to directly and immediately address our unemployment crisis,” Wilson said at the event on Feb. 27.

Wilson acknowledged that the OICs help to provide the essential skills needed for people who want to enter or reenter the workforce.

“We have a skills gap in America today.  While we need federal investment to rebuild infrastructure and jumpstart economic growth, we need programs like OIC to ensure people have the tools they need to fill existing vacancies.  As a lifelong educator and member of the Education and Workforce Committee, this is an issue that’s close to my heart.  And I want you to know that you can count on me as an advocate for job training,” Wilson said.

The purpose of the event was to initiate a dialogue between policymakers and OIC of America’s national network of community based workforce organizations with the goal of identifying strategies and partnerships that expand the workforce and further build the middle class.

OIC of South Florida is a workforce development organization. It helps people get ready to join the workforce, including those who had indiscretions in their past. OIC of South Florida, located in Fort Lauderdale, is led by Board Chairman, attorney W. George Allen. 

Sanon, who served as the moderator of the symposium, restated the original goals of OICs.

“The late Rev. Dr. Leon Sullivan created OIC because of the needs of the community in order to ‘Help People, Help Themselves’ through comprehensive service offerings and skills training. This vision lives on at every OIC throughout the country and in South Florida.”