It’s no secret that an overwhelming number of African Americans continue to be tested by today’s job market like never before. Whether your collar is white or blue, far too many of us have been unable to gain employment or forced into underemployment. Those fortunate to clock in each day have fully dismissed the notion of job security.
Face it, we can no longer spend our time complaining about the challenges of an unwelcoming labor market, especially when the Black unemployment rate has risen to 16.2% versus 8% for Whites. National Action Network President and White House adviser Rev. Al Sharpton aptly characterized such an approach as being “therapy not strategy. We must discover the will to win rather than just assess the problems.”
That’s exactly what BLACK ENTERPRISE, in partnership with Walmart—the nation’s largest corporation, decided to do when we convened our event—”20/20 Vision Forum: Job Creation and Career Opportunities in the Next Economy” this week. In his opening remarks, BLACK ENTERPRISE CEO Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr., told the standing-room-only crowd at the W Hotel in downtown Manhattan: “We brought together some of the most brilliant minds in business, government, non-profit sector and academia to share strategies for job creation; identify emerging sectors and workforce readiness programs for entry-level employees to mid-career professionals; and reveal fresh models of business innovation that will spur the development of the next wave of job-producing machines.” And Walmart’s Vice president & Northeast Regional General Manager Paul Busby described this groundbreaking gathering as nothing less than a “revival.”
In addition to keynote speaker Sharpton, other participants included Arnold Donald, president & CEO of the Executive Leadership Council and former CEO of Merisant, maker of Equal tabletop sweeteners; Kelly Beaty, vice president of marketing and communications for Dress for Success Worldwide, a workforce development organization; Tony Valentine, CEO of Valentine Manufacturing LLC (No. 96 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE COMPANIES list with $21 million in revenues); Wendy Ramadar, director of employment for the New York Urban League; and social media guru James Andrews. Dr. William Spriggs, assistant secretary for policy for the US Labor Department, was on hand to provide our labor market outlook citing, among other trends, that Black unemployment had been rising for 10 straight months before Obama took office. The others pulled no punches as they shared strategies to create our own individual and collective employment prospects as well as reinvent careers in an ultra-competitive, technology-charged environment. To quote Beaty, who once served as a contestant on the reality TV show The Apprentice: “Even in chaos, there are opportunities.”