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EPISODE: #60

Brent Orrell, Senior Fellow at The American Enterprise Institute: The Rare Gem in Workforce Development

WorkforceRx with Futuro Health
Brent Orrell, Senior Fellow at The American Enterprise Institute: The Rare Gem in Workforce Development
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PODCAST OVERVIEW

“The evidence is very sparse when it comes to effective practice in the workforce development field,” says Brent Orrell of The American Enterprise Institute. This concerning conclusion comes from the Workforce Futures Initiative, a collaborative project between AEI, the Brookings Institution and the Harvard Kennedy School Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy. But it’s not all bad news. The strong exception is sector-based training. “That is one of the rare gems where we can say with relative certainty that if workforce development practitioners do this approach in the right way, they can get good results.” As Orrell explains to Futuro Health CEO Van Ton-Quinlivan, the strength of this model derives from integrating technical skills training with instruction in so-called “soft skills” which are essential to being able to succeed in the workplace. The result is dramatic and continued increases in wages that lead to family-sustaining incomes. Orrell also credits these programs with doing a better job at keeping trainees engaged through to completion than is typically the case at community colleges which, he says, badly need a boost in the number of educational and career advising staff. Be sure to check out this thoughtful discussion on what works in workforce development, the extra responsibility Americans have to put their skills to work at the highest level, and why we shouldn’t be afraid of generative AI.

Transcript

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Welcome to WorkforceRx with Futuro Health, where future-focused leaders in education, workforce development and healthcare explore new innovations and approaches. I’m your host, Van Ton-Quinlivan, CEO of Futuro Health.

 

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Brent Orrell to the podcast so I can tap his deep knowledge of workforce issues that he gained through decades of work on Capitol Hill and in senior level positions in the U.S. Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. He added to that expertise with many years in the private sector, providing counsel in the area of workforce development and human services. Brent is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is focused on how to bridge the skills gap between American workers and the U.S. economy with a special emphasis on disadvantaged and disconnected populations.

 

He’s also on the steering committee of the Workforce Futures Initiative, a collaboration amongst the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Harvard Kennedy School Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, which recently launched a public website repository for its work.  Wow, that’s a lot of collaborations that you’re shepherding.

 

Brent Orrell: (laughs)

 

Van Ton-Quinlivan: Brent’s research interests include family formation, welfare policy and criminal justice reform. Thanks so much for joining us today, Brent.

 

Brent: It’s a real pleasure to see you again, Van.

 

Van: Well, Brent, I just came back from a meeting of the World Health Organization which has been looking for best practices in workforce development, so I am super excited to have the conversation with you today because I’m always on the hunt for best practices. Maybe we can start by learning more about the Workforce Futures Initiative and its mission to distill evidence for what’s working in workforce training and development systems. Tell us some of your broad conclusions and what your learnings are up to date.

 

Brent: Happy to. As you mentioned, this is a collaboration between AEI, Brookings and the Wiener Center at the Harvard Kennedy School. We really have gathered what I regard as some of the best minds in workforce development and workforce economics in the country, including people like Harry Holzer from Georgetown University, who is a Brookings fellow, David Deming up at Harvard, Rachel Lipson, who has since just very recently left Harvard to go to the Biden administration to help lead the CHIPS initiative, and Greg Wright over at Brookings. These are extraordinary talents in their own right in this field.

It’s interesting…when we started out on this journey about a year and a half ago, almost two years ago now, we thought that what we were going to come up with was a series of what we call playbooks for how state and local workforce agencies might take evidence-based practices, evidence-informed practices, and move them quickly into use. But before we could say, ‘this is what we think you should do,’ we wanted to find out what the data actually told us about what works. I think one of the big learnings out of this experience has been how little evidence we have about things that work. The evidence is very, very sparse when it comes to effective practice in the workforce development field. That doesn’t mean that everything that everybody is doing is not effective. It just means that we don’t have the kinds of evaluations that we’d like to have behind many of our workforce practices to be able to say, ‘this works, you should do it.’ So, that’s the big picture.

 

Within that frame, though, we did find things that we are able to stand behind and say, ‘yes, you should be doing this’. One of those things, and I think we’re going to get into this in greater depth, is sector-based employment strategy. That is one of the rare gems within workforce development, where we can say this has been used long enough, it has been evaluated thoroughly enough, that we can say with relative certainty that if workforce development program practitioners do this sector-based approach in the right way, they can get good results.

 

Van: Well, I’m quite familiar with sector-based strategy. Even before I started this work in workforce development, I had joined a workforce board as a committee member. I remember in the biotech sector, there was a woman there who was on a task force, and she said, “Look up this term called sector-based strategy.’ That began my studying process on what works in workforce development. So, I’m so excited that you came to the same conclusion. But before we dive into that question, I’d love to ask you, what does a good evaluation look like?

 

Brent: Yeah, that’s a really good question. There has been a move across federal social policy programs to try to move toward a more evidence-based approach to social policy. Evidence-based means that you have evaluations that have been conducted that have been done on an experimental basis. In other words, that you have an experimental group and you have a control group. Your experimental group is the group that is receiving the services that are being tested, and the control group is identical — from the standpoint of socioeconomic status, race, gender, so on — to the group that is receiving services but is not themselves receiving services. And then we ask the question, can you see a difference between the control group, the one who didn’t receive any services, and the group that did? This is the gold standard of evaluation.

 

Having said that, it is also extremely expensive. It’s very cumbersome for the organizations that agree to take part in it and because of those factors, it’s something that is comparatively rarely done in the social policy sphere, at least in terms of federal programs. Where it is done and where it does demonstrate results, policy makers then have a much higher level of security in terms of, ‘are we going to get a return on a public investment?’ So, as we talked about, sector-based strategies is one of these areas where multiple RCTs have been done to demonstrate their effectiveness. In areas like nurse home visiting, which is directly relevant to the health field, that’s another area that has been extensively tested. Nurse home visiting has been found to improve outcomes for children and families, reduces public welfare costs because of all of the program interventions that are not necessary when kids have a healthy start. So, that’s what a good evaluation strategy looks like.

 

But like I said, it’s expensive and it’s very cumbersome and oftentimes, organizations aren’t willing to undergo it because what it means is that people who need services that get assigned to the control group are not going to get them, and people don’t go into social services to deny benefits to people. They go in to deliver benefits to people. And so, you’re asking them to do something that is very unnatural, which is to say, ‘we’re not going to help you…we want you to not receive services so we can figure out if what we’re doing helps.’ That’s a big leap for a lot of organizations to make.

 

Van: That’s a good point. Brent, in the healthcare field, which is where I am now with Futuro Health, there’s always a search for evidence-based practices as the sort of the seed that germinates into other areas. So, let’s say someone is interested in doing an evidence-based practice and is able to fund it somehow. Are there partners that you have discovered through your process that are particularly good that you’d like to give a call out to?

 

Brent: Absolutely. There are a lot of very good evaluation firms, organizations with scientifically sound practices that have excellent reputations. The sector-based evaluation was done by a group called the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation. It’s based in New York. ABT Associates and Mathematica are huge in the area of social services. The Lewin Group in healthcare has done fantastic RCTs on healthcare practices. So, there are a lot of organizations that do this and they’re very good, and because they are so good, they are not cheap.

 

This is a complex, scientifically rigorous process that requires a ton of expertise and a wide range of knowledge of not just the policy questions that you’re examining, but really the methodological issues that come along. How do you select your sample? How do you ensure that it’s representative of the population that you’re concerned about? How do you measure the outcomes? What kind of data are you going to collect? What kinds of questions are you going to ask at the outset? What does success look like? That’s a surprisingly tricky question when it comes to setting up an RCT. So, anybody who’s interested in doing it really needs to find experts who are good at all of those things. Frequently, this is the bread and butter of most universities, doing these kinds of studies and collecting and analyzing data.

 

Van: Well, thank you for the tips. So, you have mentioned sector-based training and I remember the National Skills Coalition was a big advocate of those national policies. As a matter of fact, when I was at the California Community Colleges and we needed the language for legislation, we actually asked them to give us what worked in other states. So, if you could outline the basic concepts for our listeners, and then I would love to know what’s taking so long for everybody to adopt sector-based strategy? What’s in the way?

 

Brent: Well, good things take time, I guess, is the answer to the second part of that question.  There are a lot of things in the workforce development field that go under the heading of sector-based strategies. What I’m talking about when I say sector-based strategy is a very particular form of the intervention. The reason it’s called a sector-based strategy is that it is not targeted either to a particular population or to a particular business, right? This isn’t customized training. This is a sector-based approach that really looks to a variety of companies or firms or organizations that are doing the same kind of work in a particular geography so that the organization that provides the training isn’t providing training for one company’s workers. It’s providing training for a whole bunch of different companies who are doing similar kinds of work.

 

It’s very big in healthcare. That’s one of the fields that sector-based training is quite common in because in every major metropolitan area in the country, you have a lot of hospitals looking for a lot of different kinds of workers. So, healthcare is one of those fields. IT is also another area where you have a lot of companies that have needs for IT staff. It allows the sponsoring organization, the training organization, to develop relationships with a variety of employers and then train the kinds of skills that cut across all of those employers so that the people who are then hired have the same baseline. An employer knows what they’re getting because they’ve got one organization delivering a uniform package of skills training. So, that’s one of the differentiators.

 

I think what really makes them different, the marginal benefit that they provide, is that they don’t just do technical skills training, but they integrate technical skills training with non-technical skill training — professional skills, soft skills, non-cognitive skills, whatever your preferred nomenclature is.  The organizations that have been evaluated really show a very tight connection between the technical skills training and soft skills training.

 

Now, why is that important? It’s important because of the way that human beings are built. The way that we’ve learned from the time that we’re very small is through connections to other people. That’s how knowledge gets transferred. It usually gets transferred through another person. So, our ability to relate effectively to others is extremely important in the learning process wherever that learning process is occurring, right?  Whether it’s in a school or on the job, being able to relate effectively to others is key to being able to learn new skills. It’s also key to being able to carry out the job. You need to be able to relate well to your co-workers and to customers.

 

So, these non-technical skills, these soft skills, make it possible to learn the technical skills, but then they also activate the skills on the job. That’s what I really see as what makes sector-based training — this very rigorous form of sector-based training — different than the way that we typically think about skills training. And this is especially important, as you noted at the beginning. My main concern here is for marginalized workers, people who haven’t had access to these well-paying jobs in the past. These soft skills tend to be especially important for those populations. So, that’s what makes them different. That’s what I mean by sector-based training.

 

Now, in terms of outcomes, what we see in the data is that people who go through sector-based training strategies show dramatic increases, dramatic and sustained increases in wages. They’re the kind of programs that can take workers from $16,000 a year jobs up to $60,000 a year jobs. So, from just getting by up to a family-sustaining income, that’s the kind of results that we don’t see, actually, in much of the rest of our training efforts in this country. And so, that’s why we’re so focused on trying to get more people doing this kind of training.

 

Van: Brent, these principles, these practices that you’ve observed to be effective in terms of workforce outcomes, how then do you translate it back into the levers of public policy to get more of what it is that we all want?

 

Brent: It’s a great question. As part of the Workforce Futures Initiative, I worked with Rick Hendra, who is at MDRC — the company in New York that I mentioned previously. They’ve done the deepest work on evaluating these programs. We talk in a paper, which will be released in the next few weeks, about how we go about replicating and encouraging other organizations to take up this practice. It’s effective because it’s so intensive. The package of services and supports that are provided to participants is quite deep and rich. That takes time and it takes money.

 

We know that we’ve got a good practice here, but what we haven’t figured out completely, I think, is how to translate that and bring it to scale. My view of the scaling issue is how do we take this from programs that serve a few thousand people a year up to programs that are serving tens of thousands per year? It’s tricky to maintain quality when you go from relatively small cohorts up to much larger cohorts.

 

When I think about replication and scaling, and this is what I lay out in the paper, is that in some ways, replication of this practice is scaling. We’re not talking about two different things. Just getting more people into the way of thinking about how to do this kind of training is a form of replication because what it’s doing is getting this into the workforce system bloodstream and raising awareness of what effective practice looks like.

 

I think beyond that, what we need is something very similar to what was done with nurse home visiting. When the Obama administration came in with the Affordable Care Act and they wanted to expand nurse home visiting programs, they wanted it done the right way, the way that had demonstrated results. They actually wrote into the statute a set of standards for what the federal government would fund. I think that’s what we need to do on sector-based training strategies as well. We need to be very specific. Congress needs to be very specific about what kinds of programs we’re talking about before we make the money available so that people are aligning their programs to the effective practice standards. I think there’s a very strong, good lever there that we can use to drive the kind of effective practices that we want to see.

 

Van: Well, you know, Brent, you sat in one of those chairs where you had money to put out in the Department of Labor. Nothing happens without funds to move things along. One of the big chunks of change that is coming about is the $40 billion in the CHIPS Act. Rachel Lipson, as you mentioned, is going to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the workforce. What advice would Brent give to Rachel in terms of getting some of these principles embedded? Because I believe every single proposal has to have a workforce dimension to it, right?

 

Brent: Yeah, no, that’s absolutely right. We now have a second Department of Labor, effectively, because we’ve got some — not just CHIPS, but in a number of other areas — the Economic Development Administration at Department of Commerce has taken on more and more kind of workforce development-related program strategies, as has the Department of Education, as has HHS with nurse training. I mean, we just see this across the federal government of sort of implanting these training initiatives in more than just the U.S. Department of Labor.

 

Rachel was just an outstanding colleague to work with on the WFI and if anybody’s looking for advice, it’s me turning to her asking for advice because she knows this field very well, and I think she’ll be a good advocate for making sure that when those funds are being made available for workforce that they are following, as much as they can, the best practices that we’ve been able to identify. But I firmly believe that if the country really wants to get serious about effective job training strategies, we need a significant investment from the federal government that is, again, aligned to these principles of effective training strategies and that drives the entire system — not just individual grantees, but the workforce system itself — toward these evidence-based practices.

 

The other thing I would say is I think that doing this kind of work in this way holds a much higher potential for the taxpayers than, say, simply, “Oh, we’re just going to make free community college for everybody.” There are arguments for and against free community college, but in a world of limited resources we have relative certainty that we can boost employment outcomes significantly by focusing resources here on sector-based employment.

 

Van: Mm-hmm. That is a good point. Well, this is a good transition to my next comment which is about community colleges. Because the community college system is ubiquitous in everyone’s backyard, it’s normally turned to as a partner for the workforce system to create the talent pool. But it’s been pretty tough going for the community colleges over the pandemic. I believe that nationwide, there’s been a drop of enrollment maybe as severe as 17% overall, which means that it’s going to have a hard time taking risks, especially with new programs or expanding seats if it’s not sure that the enrollment is going to come.  So, what is the research telling you about how to make them as relevant and effective as possible?

 

Brent: I think it’s a good news, bad news situation, right? I mean, I think that people haven’t been enrolling in community college in large part because we’ve had such a strong job market. People who often enroll in community college to gain skills so that they can get employment are doing that because they’re having a hard time finding jobs. Right now, they’re not having a hard time finding jobs. There are almost two jobs for every unemployed person in this country. So, that may be part of what is causing this fall off in enrollments.

 

First, we had the pandemic and schools were closed…you had to do it online and there’s all sorts of complications there. But now we have this roaring hot labor market that I think in its own way discourages enrollment. We may see something of a cooling in the economy — I won’t call it a recession — but I do think that there are signs that the economy won’t be as hot next year as it has been for the last eighteen months, and maybe that will help drive up enrollments.

 

But I think there’s a longer-term issue here, which is that we’ve known for years that we’ve had a completion problem in the community college system with people coming in, starting degree programs or starting credential programs, getting just enough training to land a job and then not finishing the training so that they could get maybe a better job than the one that they take. That’s a question of economic pressures on people, and that’s certainly not a criticism. People have to do what they have to do to support themselves and their families. So, that completion issue, I think, is going to continue to dog us in the community college system.

 

One thing that I think would be very helpful — and I think this is something that we see in the sector-based approach — is that we need more resources targeted toward helping people sustain their engagement in education. What do I mean by that? We had Anne Kress, who is the president of the Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest in the country, talk to us as part of the Workforce Futures Initiative. And what she said was, look, we’ve got like one guidance counselor for every thousand students. That is completely insufficient. It is not easy for a worker, a student or a worker who’s seeking to train or to retrain, to get the kind of help that they need in making decisions about what kinds of education, what kinds of training they should pursue, how do they align their training to the demands of the local market, all of those kinds of questions. We just don’t have enough people there to walk alongside students to help them successfully complete training.

 

So, that’s an area that’s critical to the sector-based approach and I think is probably one of the missing ingredients that we see in the community college systems, just not enough guidance for students and people to turn to for questions. I don’t know what it was like for you when you were in college, but I remember I was desperate as an undergrad at the University of Oregon for somebody tell me how to do this because I don’t know how to do this and I came from a pretty well-resourced background. I mean, we weren’t super rich or anything, but we were rock solid middle class and yet I was still struggling with how to find my way. I think that that’s just as true today as it was then, maybe more so because the options are so much more complex and so many more choices can be made.

 

Van: Oh, I agree with you. I do believe that in a traditional higher education model, we under-resourced the supports component because I think traditionally we relied on families to do that portion and the reality now is that the students, even adult students, need that kind of support.

 

Brent: No, I think that’s right, and that’s not even any rap on families, right? I mean, that’s just a recognition of the complexity of education, training, credentialing that people face these days that they haven’t faced in the past.

 

Van: Right. You know, at Futuro Health, we’ve been working with thousands of diverse adults — like 90% diversity — and of the 1,200 inbound calls that we have gotten for support, there were 400 that were dealing with anxiety, and 300 that were dealing with grief. So, you imagine their lives…not only deaths from the pandemic, their own illnesses, then we had forest fires, right? And we had droughts. We had homelessness as a result of those. I mean, it was incredible the amount of stressors that these individuals were going through, and so the support system that they need is so much different from, I would say, maybe generations ago.

 

Brent: I agree with that, and with California, of course, it feels like the Four Horsemen have been trampling through the state with drought and flood and pandemic illness and you name it. All of those things are hard enough to cope with if you have a really strong support infrastructure and many of the students who access community college do not have that. So, why would we expect them to be as successful as they could be if they don’t have that support? I do think that there’s a conversation to be had here — in the context of limited resources because we don’t have a bottomless well in the State of California or in the federal government to finance this — but what’s the highest and best use of our money? We have a very robust training infrastructure in place, but it’s not nearly, I think, as effective as it could be if we have more support for students.

 

Van: Before we get off this topic, I just wanted to share one insight that I had. When we were trying to figure out this equation — and in speaking to the group of folks who represented the counselors — their issue was that to do the transfer pathway, it’s mostly one flavor to transfer. The path is very clear. But to do the career education guidance, it’s so many flavors of career education. It’s like, “What’s this manufacturing? And what’s this health care? And what’s this global trade?”  In a way that the menu is so big that it’s easier to just counsel them into the transfer pathway. So, you know, even within the counseling community, figuring out a solution that compensates for the variety of the menu is going to be important.

 

Brent: Yeah, I think it’s really critically important. I think it’s a step that actually not just community college students, but all students tend to skip, which is a really serious sort of period of reflection about what it is that people want to do. What are they really, really skilled to do or have an interest in learning how to do rather than just sort of grabbing something because it sounds like it might be a good idea or somebody told them it was a good idea.

 

One survey I read not too long ago showed that 92% of parents want their kids to major in engineering. That actually makes no sense at all because engineering is a very difficult field. You know, we’re all on the bell curve here in terms of the distribution of intelligence and most of us are pretty average. People who succeed in fields like engineering tend to skew pretty hard toward math and science and there just aren’t that many of us. But I think that 92% tells us something about what drives decision making, which is mostly anxiety about whether I’m going to be able to support myself.

 

What I try to tell students when I talk with them — these are mostly undergrads, and I do a fair amount of speaking — is don’t worry so much. You are part of a $25 trillion economy. If you put in some effort here and learn what you need to learn, you’re probably not going to find yourself on the street. You’re not going to be without the necessities of life. And so if that’s your baseline, that you’re okay, then you have not just an opportunity, but really a responsibility to think about, “Well, what am I actually best at doing, or what might I be best at doing, because that’s where I can make the most contribution to the world around me and also maximize my own economic returns.”

 

I’m a firm believer that you should love what you’re doing. My podcast is called Hardly Working not because I don’t want people to work. I do want them to work, but I want them to not notice that they’re working…that they love what they’re doing, and therefore work is easy. It feels less like work. So, I think that that’s the step that we’re missing right now.

 

One of the steps that we’re missing is really encouraging people to step back and to ask, who am I? What am I really gifted for? What would I like to do? These are not questions that most of the people on the planet ever have a chance to ask, but we as Americans get to ask of ourselves and should be asking because we have a bigger responsibility to the world around us to make sure that we are putting our energy and our intellect and our skills to work at the highest level that we can and really make a significant contribution with our lives.

 

I think that that gets lost, and I think that part of that is not having enough people around asking that question and helping people think about not just what they could do with their future, how they could make the most money, but how could they be happiest?

 

Van: Well, since we’re benefiting from getting career advice from Brent…

 

Brent: (laughs)

 

Van: …for our children or our nieces and nephews or even ourselves, why don’t I ask you about generative AI, because I’m sure that came up during your discussions. What are the implications in terms of navigating future careers and work?

 

Brent: You missed your calling, Van, which is to ask good questions on interviews. This is another really great question. First thing I would say about generative AI is that people need to stop dooming about it. This is going to be a huge asset to us. It’s going to empower people to do more. I can see it in my own life already. It is increasing my productivity, and I think that that’s what we can look forward to…is that generative AI is going to increase our span of our reach in our careers to do more than what we were able to do before. So that’s what I think the real headline message here is.

 

Now, having said that, that doesn’t mean that this is going to be an easy transition. It is going to exact a toll on us to adjust to the technology, to incorporate the technology into the way that we do our work. It’s kind of like…we invented the steam engine, right? Well, now we’ve got this incredibly powerful thing that can make a factory work faster and better and turn out far more stuff, right? Well, it doesn’t do that by itself. It has to be integrated into the operation of the rest of the business and that takes time and it takes investment and it takes training in order to really begin to reap the benefits. So, there is a runway here.

 

The most important thing for people to understand is that they have a personal responsibility to learn as much as they can about generative AI and how it works. You know, sign up for OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Get on Microsoft Bing — their new chat search engine — and the new BARD Google search engine that incorporates these things and play with it. Learn how it works. Read about it. Read about the principles of how generative AI works. We need to be comfortable. And as you and I both know, as we get older, it’s harder, right? I completely do not even bother trying to program the remote on my television. I just give that to my son and he does it because he gets it intuitively.

 

None of us have that luxury when it comes to generative AI. We have got to, if not master it, we at least have to be comfortable with it, not be afraid of it and learn how to use it as much as we can. I just saw the other day that one of my favorite economists, Tyler Cowen at George Mason University, he was talking about how he’s requiring his students to write papers using chat technology — not cut and paste — but using it to their best advantage in terms of doing the research and analysis that they need to do in order to pass his classes. That’s genius. That’s making the technology your partner. That’s the kind of approach that we need on this.

 

We know from the studies that have been done thus far that about 80% of jobs are going to be affected by chat tech. Twenty percent of jobs could be fully automated and will go away. Those people will have to be retrained for something else and we need to have resources in place to do that. But for most of us, it’s going to be part of our lives and we just need to dive in and make it our friend.

 

Van: Well, Brent, I was dragging my feet trying to write this job description for our director of finance and then somebody said, “Well, geez, just go to ChatGPT and have them generate it for you.” And my gosh, I tried it out. You know, 30 seconds later, I had this great start.

 

Brent: (laughs) It’s like that with everything, right? I mean, even with computer programmers, you can go on the GitHub and Copilot platforms and say, “I need the basic infrastructure for a web page.” You type in the instructions and what you’re looking for into the chat program and it gives you the basics. And then the programmer takes that — just like you’re going to take that job description and you’re going to fine tune it to make it do what you need it to do specifically — but think of how much time a programmer could save if they weren’t having to reinvent every single piece of a web page and instead can just say, “Give me the basic outline here and I will fill in the details.” So, that’s the kind of thing, and it’s only going to get better.

 

The other thing people think is we’ve reached some sort of endpoint. We’re barely at the beginning on this. It’s going to become more powerful over time. It’s going to be able to do more and it’s going to help us do more.

 

Van: All right, audience, you heard it here. Brent says to go play.

 

Brent: It’s true. You have to play with it a little bit.

 

Van: All right. So why don’t we close up?  I’m very curious…with everything that you’ve done with the Workforce Futures Initiative, all the roles that you’ve had, all the research that you’ve read, if you were to advise your younger self who worked in the administration, what would you do differently?

 

Brent: Well, people ask me this question. I always say, “What I would say to my eighteen-year-old self is there’s this company called Apple and you need to go and buy as much stock in that company as you possibly can because you are going to be extremely wealthy if you do that.”

 

But in seriousness, my advice to people, especially younger people, is don’t worry so much. You won the lottery by being born in this country or becoming a citizen of this country. This country has so much opportunity. You have to put in the effort. Sweat equity is what counts here. So, you’ve got to work hard, but don’t be driven by anxiety. Be driven by hope and by those innate gifts that you have…the things that you do just because you love them rather than the things that you feel like somebody else has told you that you have to do.

 

Look at those things and then ask yourself the question, how do I align those interests and those ideas to the market instead of starting with the market and trying to work backwards into the training?  That’s my core advice to people. And what I would have loved somebody to say to me when I was twenty-two years old is, “You’re fine. You’re going to have a wonderful career. You’re going to meet a lot of fascinating people — including this woman named Van who’s been a friend now for a decade — and you’re going to have a wonderful life. Make sure that you’re doing what you love rather than spending your life wishing that you had done something and getting to the end of your career saying you wish you’d done something different.”

 

I’m happy that that’s where I am, and I’d like other people to have that experience in their career.

 

Van: Well, folks, you heard it here. Let’s put in the effort and find what we love. Thank you very much, Brent, for joining us today.

 

Brent: Happy to do it and look forward to another conversation soon.

 

Van: That’d be great. I’m Van Ton-Quinlivan with Futuro Health. Thanks for checking out this episode of WorkforceRx.