Despite studies showing how unsuccessful and harmful diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policies and programs can be, DEI-backed funding sources still support training and workforce development in states nationwide, including Alabama.

Governor Kay Ivey recently announced the state was "celebrating" a $1.4 million grant given to the Alabama Talent Triad by SkillsFWD initiative, a national initiative to allow companies to use more equitable skills-based hiring systems.

The grant, given to companies that aim to implement equitable skills-based hiring systems and hire more diverse employees, was awarded to six companies nationwide.

Alabama Works is a program that connects communities, businesses and industry with people to help further workforce development in seven regions of the state. The initiative was a project of the Alabama Workforce Council. Alabama Works explained in a press release how the latest grant will give opportunities to job seekers. The release included a comment from Ivey when she announced the grant during a groundbreaking initiative earlier this month.

"I believe we can reimagine the way Alabama does workforce development," Ivey said at the event. "Part of that means developing innovative solutions to grow our successes. The Talent Triad, which we are celebrating today, will be just that — an effective tool in our workforce development toolbox."

The tool of all six winners of the grant is LERs, or digital records showing formal and informal learning of applicants to provide diversity on the job or in the classroom.

"SkillsFWD was created in recognition of the unique opportunity we have to ensure the digitization of education and employment is implemented effectively and with equity at its center," said Heidi Hernandez Gatty, vice president of arts & education at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, which is the fiscal sponsor for SkillsFWD.

According to its mission and values statement, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. The organization touts its focus on giving each person "the opportunity to live and thrive regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality, age, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, religious belief, political perspective, education, socioeconomic status, and mental and physical ability."

Funding for the grants also came from Ascendium Education Group, the Charles Koch Foundation, Strada Education Foundation and Walmart.

The organizations focus on diversity or equity through giving, training or education. For example, Strada Education is DEI Workplace certified, and Ascendium Education Group has given millions to DEI initiatives on college campuses. They often grant to ensure DEI policies are put into place.

Julie Gehrki, the Vice President of the Walmart Foundation, said it is important to keep DEI at the heart of the organization's philanthropy.

"Diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the heart of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation's philanthropy," she said in the Walmart 2023 Culture, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Annual Report. "Guided by Walmart's core value of respect for the individual, we strive to live this through our daily actions, our work with grantees and communities, and our investments in more equitable outcomes."

In a statement from SkillsFWD, Gehrki also said Walmart.org has been investing in LERs for over ten years.

"Our end goal is creating more hiring and advancement opportunities for all," she said. "We believe digital records are vital to giving people pathways to do and earn more, especially frontline employees. People controlling data about their own work and life experience gives them the power to use that data to build a better future. That could mean determining eligibility for benefits or applying for jobs. It gives them a way to show the skills they have acquired and choose which skills to share, without data that may trigger biases."

When asked if there were stipulations on the grant, Alabama Works communications coordinator Jerry Weisenfeld said he was unsure of those but indicated the money would fund "projects solving challenges around the adoption and accessibility of learning and employment."

Alabama Works referred 1819 News to CBEN, the grantee, for more information. A media inquiry has not been answered.

The governor's office responded by saying there are zero stipulations on how the grant money is spent.

The Talent Triad has reached 19,000 students, job seekers, and over 50 employers.

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