4 Workplace Takeaways from the State of the Union Address

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Obama State of the Union 2016
Photo Credit: ABC News

President Obama’s last State of the Union Address was emphatic, energetic and enthusiastic. It was also heavily workforce-focused and, of course, we couldn’t resist expressing our thoughts on a few of his quotes (thanks, Federal News Service). Let’s get to it.

  1. “And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done… equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage.”

Equal pay for equal work is a battle that’s still being fought across demographics and industries. Whether in blue- or white-collar jobs, there is simply no place for ageism, racism or sexism in the workplace. Fortunately, progress is being made, as employers are more open than ever to discussing these issues and coming up with solutions for them.

As far as minimum wage, that’s another battle that doesn’t seem close to being resolved. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour and hasn’t increased since 2009 (in fact, $7.25/hour is only a 10% increase over the historical average of $6.60 from 1947-2013). Most Democrats say raising the minimum wage is essential to help the working poor and cut down on income inequality. On the other hand, most Republicans say that raising the minimum wage will result in job losses and higher prices. Economists are split on the issue. However, with nearly 3 million U.S. workers earning minimum wage and the cost of living continuing to rise by roughly 2% a year, the debate over whether legislation is needed to get companies to increase pay isn’t going away any time soon.

  1. “We live in a time of extraordinary change—change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet…It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.”

The President’s quote on change is no exaggeration—change can be both good and bad. It’s a give and take. On a macro level, we’re experiencing more technological changes and faster environmental changes than ever before. On a slightly more micro level, we’re experiencing all sorts of changes in the workforce, including education and skills shortages, outsourcing issues and more.

One thing is clear—to capitalize on the positive changes and combat the negative ones, our nation needs to be unified. Endless debates between Democrats and Republicans, or between the public and private sectors are counterproductive. We need to work together to make sure Americans have opportunities to find meaningful and fulfilling work. And we need to work to ensure that those aforementioned changes are positively impacting the ways in which we live and work, whenever possible.

  1. “We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.”

Yes! We work with thousands of job candidates in all sorts of settings—from corporate offices to warehouses—and we often see gaps in what employers need and the soft, technical or vocational skills of job seekers. This is an obvious and consistent issue. While we work to close those gaps through internships, training, development opportunities and more, as a nation, we need to build a better-educated, highly trained and well-equipped workforce.

  1. “We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”

We do. And we need to ensure that some of that spending is going to help veterans reenter the workforce and support their families when their service is done. We feel like we’re doing our part through our Military Alliance for Veterans and Military Spouses, but would love to do more. The fact is, we have thousands of honorable veterans that return to civilian life every year. While they possess many military-derived traits that companies value, they often need education and skills training to succeed. Not to mention, going from the battlefield to the office can be a psychologically challenging and uncomfortable transition, one that takes time. We need to do everything possible to cater to these men and women and help them build successful—and in a way, new—lives.

These are problems that we all face as Americans—regardless of our party affiliations—and require us to come together in order to build a better national workforce and economy.


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