The Long Fight for Workforce Development Begins Before the Headlines Start
Due to the U.S.’s largest labor shortage since World War II, workforce issues remain top of mind. There are 3.4 million fewer workers today than in February 2020, and more than 10 million open jobs, but only about six million unemployed people are looking for positions.
Amber Rangel Mooney, who participated in the Elite Cohort of the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Business Leads Fellowship Program (Business Leads), currently works as vice president and director of workforce development at Empire State Development. She learned the challenges of workforce pipelines first-hand.
Prior to receiving her bachelor’s degree at age 30, Rangel Mooney worked in hospitality, with experiences in waitressing, bartending, and event management. When she left hospitality, she was director of event management for a large catering company, managing several departments as a part of a multimillion-dollar operation.
“I realized one day, in my late twenties, that without a degree, hospitality would be the only thing that I’d be able to do, I would not have opportunities,” Rangel Mooney explained. “For me, it was very much waking up one Saturday morning; I had 50 new seasonal staff members to go in and train. And I knew, at 7:00 am on a Saturday morning, I didn’t want to do this forever. I needed to get a degree, so I had options.”
This decision became even more clear to her when she started her courses as the Great Recession hit in 2008. She knew she possessed extensive administrative skills from her work as a director of event management. Still, the economic downturn made positions so competitive that even the part-time administrative assistant roles she sought as a student had bachelor’s and master’s degree requirements.
Now, as Rangel Mooney works to complete her master’s degree, she remains dedicated to advocating for career opportunities for those who need them most.
“When the pandemic hit, I couldn’t help but think, when I was waitressing and bartending, I was hustling and always a hard worker,” she explained. “As many of those people are, but they were the ones most impacted , and by no fault of their own. If I was still in hospitality, I would have been devastated both financially and emotionally.”
As someone immersed in policy and systemic change, one of Rangel Mooney’s biggest takeaways from the program remains the Prosci change management theory session.
Her cohort began in January 2020, right before the pandemic, and the focus on change management proved informative as workforce, childcare, and education systems underwent unpredictable systemic changes.
This year, she started advocating for the New York State Education Department to include essential skills into the P-12 curriculum. Essential skills are often referred to as soft skills, such as communication, collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and time management.
Beyond this, many high school students get shut out from curriculum opportunities when advanced courses, such as AP or IB classes, are limited to certain students and impact their college courses.
“Part of our advocacy has been in removing barriers,” Rangel Mooney said. “But the ongoing advocacy to the state education department is making sure that we know the makeup of these programs. There are many great programs, but generally, low-income students and students of color are kept out.”
She’s worked directly with the state education department and issued Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the top 100 school districts in New York State by population and ten rural school districts since individual school districts develop their own policies to admit students into these programs.
They found that the state education department was not monitoring multiple barriers. Now that they have informed the state education department, the government entity is making formal recommendations to schools to make changes.
“Getting the information out there and then advocating on the state level with the state education department, is something that, unfortunately, we’re always going to have to do. I’ll continue to advocate until we don’t have to,” Rangel Mooney said. “Hopefully, it will be resolved in my lifetime, but it’s a long fight.”
Now, working for New York State’s Economic Development Division, she is able to impact change in the workforce system to meet the needs of employers and empower historically marginalized communities through training and education that leads to quality jobs.