Q&A with Jane Oates ’83MEd
Arcadia University’s Honors Program and Office of Career Education welcomed Jane Oates ’83MEd on March 3 as part of the Pioneer Series. Oates is president of WorkingNation, a nonprofit media organization telling stories about solutions to the jobs skills gap and community workforce issues while helping to identify where the jobs of the future will be. Before WorkingNation, Oates served as assistant secretary for Employment and Training at the U.S. Department of Labor under President Obama and was a senior advisor for Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Commission.
Q: You’ve had what seems to be an interesting and fulfilling career. Why the move from the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education to WorkingNation?
A: I have had an interesting and fulfilling career. Every position that I held was my favorite until I moved to the next opportunity. Teaching in Boston, moving back to Philadelphia, teaching at Stetson for 15 years, and then moving to the Center for Research in Human Development and Education at Temple—I loved every minute of those positions and was not looking to make a move. Leaving New Jersey was the same. I had a great boss in Jon Corzine, amazing colleagues at the Commission and State House and colleges who were student-centered. The opportunity to join the Obama Administration as Assistant Secretary of Labor during the worst recession of my lifetime was a challenge I couldn’t resist. WorkingNation was a chance to use storytelling done by the best in the industry to educate and convince every worker that they can succeed in the 21st-century workforce.
Q: What stands out about your Beaver College experience?
A: I came to Beaver to really get more skills in helping my students succeed in reading. I am a special education teacher by training, and I knew that I needed more in assessment and strategies when it came to making up the deficits my students were dealing with. Beaver was cutting edge. Professors like Adele Gomberg were looking internationally—in the early 80s, no less—at best teaching processes far beyond the high-interest, low-level materials movement in the United States. I feel that the global viewpoint—along with the real assessment learning in clinical—made me a much more effective teacher.
Q: In your position at WorkingNation, you discuss advancing achievable solutions to bridge the skills gap. What would an achievable solution be?
A: Achievable solutions in the workplace are solutions that get people good jobs and get employers the talent they need. They may vary by individual and company in terms of time and educational partners, but the common elements are transparency and relevance.
Q: What changes in the job market have you observed since 2009 when you were appointed by President Obama as assistant secretary of the Department for Labor for Employment and Training?
A: The biggest change in the job market is urgency. Today, employers see clearly that they are in a battle for talent. That’s making them look in different places, which is good. Recruiting more broadly at a wide variety of colleges, investing in registered apprenticeships in blue- and white-collar jobs, growing their own incumbent workers’ talents, and creating more inclusive talent pools that don’t restrict participation by sex, race, sexual orientation, age or previous adjudication are all positive outcomes of that talent shortage.
Q: How will automation and other technological factors affect the job market in the 21st century?
A: Automation is impacting every job today, and there seems to be consensus that the trend will continue. Education needs to continue to respect that some tasks will be automated quickly and concentrate on education that revolves around human strengths—creativity, innovative thinking, and entrepreneurial activities. At the same time, educators should be using machine-based learning and making sure that both digital natives and digital dinosaurs are prepared to work side-by-side with machines. The Pioneer Series features stories of change agents whose professional careers showcase integrity and value openness to communities. Staying focused on making a difference served me well and could serve others as well.
Q: What advice would you give both to recent graduates who are establishing their careers and for experienced professionals who want to keep their skills relevant in an ever-changing job market?
A: Everyone in the workforce needs to know under what conditions they believe they can thrive. The rise of gig work is making people believe that there will be no full-time, one employer jobs in the future. I don’t believe that. There will be more options. Education needs to do a much better job explaining the opportunities and challenges of gig, contract, remote work, and traditional jobs. In order to succeed you may have to move from one kind of work to another, so make sure you have the tools to succeed.
Q: What role do you think professional associations play in today’s job market? Do you think this will change in the years to come?
A: Professional associations are more important than ever. They provide the information and professional development that will always be a critical part of both career success and self-fulfillment. Associations also offer networking and mentoring opportunities. Having professional colleagues who can inform your choices gives you an important addition to salary scales, job descriptions, and recruiters’ insights.
Q: How has your background as an educator helped you promote employment throughout your career?
A: I am and always will be a learner and teacher. My preparation and experience taught me to observe and listen, analyze complex tasks down to the component steps, and teach to those steps. Every problem has a solution, and you can solve problems faster and better if you do it in partnership. Team teaching led me to a lifetime of building partnerships—and those partnerships were not only effective and often impactful, but they were always fun. I leaned on those partnerships to influence legislation and to help local areas rebuild their economies with some federal dollars at Labor. At WorkingNation, we get to tell the stories of those partnerships—and what inspiring stories they are!