Advocacy Myths and Opportunities

by Bridget Brown

Politics, Congress, Washington, DC – What does any of this have to do with providing quality career development services at your non-profit agency? Probably more than you think.

The federal government sends a strong message with its education, workforce and economic development policies. It provides funding for employment-related programs serving targeted populations (e.g., transitioning veterans, dislocated workers, welfare recipients, incarcerated youth and adults). It also provides support for general functions such as career counseling services in the secondary schools and colleges. While your non-profit program may not directly benefit from federal funding, it is extremely likely that it benefits indirectly. Therefore, it is in your best interest to become at least informed, if not also involved at some level, with public policy and advocacy.

Career development professionals have a strong role to play in advocating in favor of expanding opportunities for students and adults. To get you started on your advocacy path, let us first address the top four myths of advocacy:

  • Myth #1: It takes too much time. There is no expectation that you will spend an exorbitant amount of time on advocacy. Though we all have busy lives, in most cases it will take less than an hour a month to keep up-to-date with the latest developments and, if necessary, respond.

  • Myth #2: It takes specialized training to be effective. While there are certainly areas that require a bit of practice, professionals already have the subject matter expertise necessary to get started. NCDA will be developing tools and resources that you can have at your fingertips to make your role as an advocate easier. Your ability to form a connection with people and your passion for providing quality career development resources already qualifies you as an expert.

  • Myth #3: You have to be in DC to advocate. Here's a little secret – politics really is local and advocacy is about local relationships. Some of the most effective efforts occur outside of our nation's capitol. In addition to letters and phone calls from your home, every legislator has one or more offices in his/her own state. Many times, it is easier to get an appointment locally than it is in Washington.

  • Myth #4: It is all about the money. With all of the recent scandals and negative press, it is easy to think so, but it isn't the case with human service programs. Most legislators do what they do because they really want to help their constituents. Most legislators are concerned about the human interest story and how it impacts the voters and the employers in their district. You are the one who can communicate the story to your elected officials.

Policymakers (just like "real people") cannot make good decisions in a vacuum. They absolutely need the input and advice of a well-informed citizenry. And for career development issues, that means active participation of NCDA members. Who better to explain the educational, economic and social benefits of career development than ourselves?

The key to success is ensuring that there is a strong national framework that can serve as a springboard for our clients. Students need to continue to have access to resources necessary to make a successful transition from high school to college; dislocated workers need to have the employment-related services including career counseling that will help them re-enter the workforce; parents need resources to work with their children to develop meaningful graduation and career plans; career counselors need access to the latest research illustrating the most effective career development interventions; and everyone needs quality career information that will help them in fully utilizing the myriad of labor market information and economic analysis data to make the career choice that is ‘right' for their situation. Throw in the employers' needs for highly skilled and highly educated workers and you have a really complex situation.

So, what does involvement in advocacy really mean for NCDA members? It can mean a variety of activities based on your comfort level. It can mean something as simple as keeping abreast of the current initiatives and sharing that information with your colleagues. It can mean educating and guiding elected officials on the benefits of career development and letting them know the impact of career development policies on your students or clients. Simply, it means acting on what you know to ensure that our youth and adults have the necessary resources they need to make informed and considered career choices.

Truly, there is much more to advocacy than marching up to Capitol Hill and testifying in front of a congressional committee. If you don't know already, find out who your legislators are by logging onto www.house.gov or www.senate.gov. Also, be sure to sign up for the Legislative Listserv, which will provide timely information on federal initiatives impacting career development.

Bridget Brown is the Executive Director of the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals. She serves NCDA as the Government Relations Chair. She was formerly the Executive Director of America's Career Resource Network Association. Prior to her role at ACRNA, she served as the Director of Program Development for the National Skill Standards Board at the U.S. Department of Labor, Co-director of the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council, and Associate Director of Government Relations for the American Vocational Association. Bridget can be reached at bridget@nawdp.org .

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