Over the last three years, we have made significant strides in each of our Integration Initiative cities to transform stuck or stifled workforce systems to truly meet the needs of low-income people.

As many people who spend time supporting efforts that prepare low-income people for quality 21st century jobs can attest to there are many challenges facing our existing workforce system. These challenges range from ensuring that local, state, and federal leaders are aligned and working towards the same set of goals to connecting workforce training to existing employment opportunities. At a recent Integration Initiative learning community, we had an opportunity to discuss these challenges and explore how our partners in Baltimore, Cleveland, and the Twin Cities are working establish a new way of working in this field.

At this learning community, we heard from Carrie Jo Short the Director of Grants and Program Services at The Saint Paul Foundation and Co-Chair Workforce Innovation Network, Dave Reines the Executive Director of Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Workforce Investment Board, and Melanie Styles the Workforce Development Program Officer at the Abell Foundation and the Co-Chair of the Baltimore Workforce Funders Collaborative. This blogs offers some of the key takeaways from this conversation.

Public Sector
Across the board, we heard of the challenges faced by civic leaders if the public sector was not engaged early and often. They bring institutional memory, an understanding of resource flows, and the ability to share lessons across organizations and institutions. Melanie Styles described how in Baltimore, the participation of the state in their collective impact partnership resulted in the passage of Maryland Employment Action Right Now (EARN), a $4.5 million training fund that supports employer-driven collaborations to connect specific employers workforce needs and Maryland’s workers. As the National Skills Coalition notes, “these partnerships will identify common workforce needs for high-demand occupations within a targeted industry—such as construction, traditional and advanced manufacturing, cyber security, and health care—and develop and implement education or training strategies to address those shortages”.

Private Sector
Engaging the private sector in each of our cities proved to pay-off handsomely. In each of our cities, we learned that when employers are actively engaged in local partnerships, they bring their understanding of industry employment needs and their connection with other employers. Engaging employers requires a clear understanding of their role and of the various contributions different sized employers need and bring. A good example of differentiating approaches for attracting different sized employers comes from Cleveland. Dave Reines described how the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) works to support smaller employers with limited search and training capacity by acting as the Human Resource Department for them. The WIB identifies 5-10 candidates from programs that are good candidates and creates an incentive for employers to engage in longer-term efforts to transform the workforce training system.

Interestingly enough, many of Living Cities’ members are making significant investment into transforming the workforce system. The most notable is the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. In each of our cities, local foundations are also playing critical roles transforming the workforce system. Carrie Jo Short described the ways that foundations in the Twin Cities are organizing into the Twin Cities Workforce Innovation Network. The Network is focused on ensuring that the region supports and develops “the skilled and diverse workforce needed for continued economic competitiveness”. She also noted that foundations can contribute non-grant supports to advance workforce efforts like convening cross-sector leaders, supporting risk taking, and providing capital supports to scale businesses that create quality jobs for low-income people.

Over the last three years, we have made significant strides in each of our Integration Initiative cities to transform stuck or stifled workforce systems to truly meet the needs of low-income people and cultivate economic development in cities. We see the connection of workforce and economic development as inextricably linked requiring active engagement from leaders from multiple sectors in collective impact partnerships. As we move forward, we are looking forward to continued learning and change in cities across the country.