Workforce Boards in Six States Selected to Help Get Americans Back to Work

Last week, over 750,000 people filed unemployment claims. As widely reported, many of these jobs are not coming back. So where are Americans going to look for employment? This is a question facing the over 12 million individuals searching for jobs.

In addition to government stimulus payments, there is another resource that may not be on the radar of most Americans: workforce boards and job centers. As I previously wrote, these entities served 1 in 12 Americans last year. Yet why are these organizations unknown to so many of the general public? A key reason is that most people with a college degree and networks have never interacted with this system. These organizations serve a majority of Americans from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have other barriers to employment like not having a four-year degree. These job centers are a lifeline for people who are in need of jobs and the upskilling efforts to secure them.

The last time I searched for a job, I did it from home and leveraged my social networks. When I wanted to learn something new that I thought would make me more marketable, I logged onto my computer and took an EdX course. Many people say that is the “job search of the future.” The only problem is that this process leaves many people out — including the 13 percent of U.S. households that inhabit internet deserts, often rural but some urban spots too. There are more than 14 million people without any internet access and 25–168 million without faster and more reliable broadband access (depending on who is counting). Many workforce boards and job centers are helping to minimize this gap but they need more public-private partnerships to close the digital divide.

This year, a group of cross-sector organizations launched the Future of Work Grand Challenge, powered by innovators XPRIZE and MIT Solve, to rebuild our economy and create a future of work that works for everyone. Since launching in June, we’ve received hundreds of applications for solutions that will create new pathways and training to place workers in higher-wage, higher-skill careers.

In order to begin validating the most promising of these solutions, we have selected workforce boards in six states to be partners in the pilot phase. These boards — which are regional organizations that advance community-led workforce and economic development strategies — have been chosen for their records of effectiveness and innovation. During a challenging, at times a despairing year, these workforce boards have quickly pivoted to meet the needs of local workers — many of whom have been hard-hit by the pandemic.

Each workforce board selected will receive tailored support and funding to pilot innovations and apply the advanced technologies and data analytics of the Grand Challenge. Ultimately, the work of these six organizations will shape the playbook to be used by the 538 workforce boards nationwide. These pilot sites include:

  • Capital Workforce Partners, a Hartford, Connecticut-based nonprofit that helps individuals overcome barriers to employment and works to close the skills gap in the local labor market to meet employers’ hiring needs.

This work is being in part led by implementation partner JFF, with meaningful support from JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Comcast. As Maria Flynn, president and CEO of JFF shares: “Across the country, future-focused workforce boards are evolving their operations, strategies, and services to the changing world of work and the ever-shifting labor market brought on by COVID-19. The Future of Work Grand Challenge is bringing together the best of emerging technology with the critical infrastructure of local workforce organizations to build a better career navigation and employment experience for workers in need of support.”

In the year ahead, we look forward to continuing to share the stories of innovation, trial, and success from these leading organizations. We also look forward to seeing how their findings can help inform policy decisions. I often say that local workforce offices were the “best-kept secret” in the future of work landscape. This initiative aims to change that. Equipped with national funding, partnerships, data and technologies, these organizations are uniquely positioned to lead the new era of innovation for jobseekers who need them the most.

Innovating + Investing at the intersections of the Future of Work, Race and Equity. Twitter: @angjack

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