Plotting Your Course
Field Guide for Workforce Technology Solutions
Assessing Your Needs
Before launching a transformative technology-enabled partnership or project, it’s important to ground your approach in the needs of the community—and in a realistic assessment of your organization’s capacity and capabilities. Proceed with caution, and make sure you don’t put the solution before the problem. Answering questions like these will get you started:
- What priorities do you believe your organization should focus on in the near-, mid-, and long-term to more equitably meet the economic advancement needs of people, communities, and local economies?
- Why is it important for your organization to pursue these opportunities? What specific gaps would these resources fill throughout your community?
- Will pursuing these opportunities yield substantial impact and benefits for the individuals your organization serves and who reside in your community? Why or why not?
- What would your organization like to achieve but can’t because you currently don’t have sufficient resources, capacity, skills, or knowledge?
- What needs, gaps, and/or solutions cannot be addressed readily or fully by your organization working independently?
- What barriers currently prevent your organization from addressing these problems readily or fully by acting independently?
Based on your responses to those questions and any other key questions you’ve identified, select up to three community and organizational needs that you feel you could potentially address if you adopted a new technology. Can you prioritize them by importance? By urgency? Can you identify where these priorities intersect? In what specific ways would an innovative new technology solution bring value to what you seek to achieve?
The needs you identify may start to align across a few distinct categories that help you clarify your goals. Here are some examples of three broad categories of short-, medium-, and long-term objectives that participants identified during the Future of Work Grand Challenge, along with suggested steps you can take toward fulfilling those objectives:
- Training for in-demand skills (short-term): Identify mature high-growth industries and employers in your region that are seeking workers with advanced skills that require specialized training that few, if any, local providers or programs offer.
- Ecosystem building (medium-term): Identify lower-profile employers and industries in the region with the potential to provide high-wage jobs. These employers and other stakeholders may not have the resources to create coordinated training programs that help them fulfill their labor needs. Your organization can help by pulling fragmented players together through asset-mapping, small-scale pilot projects, or infusion of catalyzing capital, activities, or other resources.
- Exploration and awareness (long-term): Identify nascent industries that only recently established a small presence in the region but have the potential to grow and create many high-wage jobs. Work with strategic local employers or partners from other regions where this industry is more established to educate your staff about the background, skills, and hiring needs of this industry.
Assessing Whether a Technology Platform Is the Right Fit for Your Organization
Technology can be a powerful tool that can improve your efficiency and effectiveness and enable you to offer clients expanded access to resources and opportunities. However, it’s not a cure-all. Organizations should always consider technology integration in context with the needs of their communities and partners. Here are a few questions to help understand whether a technology platform is right for your organization.
- What need is this technology solving? How will it make your existing programs or systems more efficient or effective? Will it replace or integrate with existing systems? How does it fill gaps in capacity?
- How has this technology been tested and vetted in the past, and what data exists to support claims?
- What data will the technology’s maker be collecting on learners and their educational progress? Will learners’ information be protected? If so, how? How will the data be collected? Will you be able to link this data to your own data systems? And if so, will it fill existing gaps? What agreements are needed regarding the sharing of learners’ data?
- How will learners access the technology? What hardware or software will you—and they—need? Is there a cost that will be passed on to the learner?
- How will learners be supported when using the technology? Who is responsible for technical support?
Educate Solution Teams on the Community Context
Even if a particular training technology has a track record of success, it’s unlikely that it has ever been deployed by a workforce development board, or in a regional economy that mirrors your own.
Context matters for technology implementations. Every community has a unique set of strengths, skills, knowledge, and assets. It will be your job, as a leader who knows the community well, to help technology vendors and training providers make sure their tools and programs align with the needs of your jobseekers and other stakeholders.
Specifically, you may need to work with training providers to identify and address issues unique to your community and your clients, such as lack of broadband access, limited digital literacy, or limited English-language skills.
Assembling Your Internal Team
A team with the right mix of skills and competencies is key to the success of any technology initiative. Table 1 below lists the roles and responsibilities that members of your staff will have to take on in order to implement a future-oriented education and workforce program with a new partner. Not all of these roles must be dedicated full-time to one specific project, but it will be important for you and the people handling these responsibilities to have a realistic understanding of the potential time commitment that will be required to perform these functions.
Internal Roles and Responsibilities
Roles & Responsibilities
Beyond mission alignment, community and technology partners need a shared understanding of their own and one another's skills, assets, and resource constraints to launch and run an effective program. Given that workforce boards and AJCs often have limited staff capacity and funding and other resources, understanding how best to leverage project partners’ strengths and resources can determine the success of a partnership.
Here are a few questions that can help identify organizational strengths and gaps. These should be answered separately by all community organizations and training providers partnering on the project, but the responses should be reviewed and discussed together as a team. While the “Assessing Your Needs” section above was about why your organizations should partner, the questions below will help determine how you and other organizations can collaborate and leverage one another’s assets and resources to launch an effective partnership.
- Who are the organization’s core constituents and/or stakeholders?
- What services does the organization provide to those constituents and stakeholders?
- What are the organization’s capabilities, skills, and assets (examples might include outreach and communication, program management, access to data sets, training dollars, memberships, or influence)?
- What are the organization’s resource constraints (examples might include limited staff capacity, funding shortfalls, staff turnover, antiquated data system, or bureaucratic red tape)?
Based on discussion and responses to those questions, work with your partners to determine which organization(s) are best suited to take on each of the roles in Table 2 below. Keep in mind that it may be necessary or prudent for multiple organizations to assume a role in instances where capacity of an organization is limited or there is a large region or target population to serve.
Micro Case Study: Addressing Capacity Constraints in Michigan
Most of the training solution providers in the Grand Challenge managed all instructional and classroom activities, but that wasn’t the case for all partnerships.
In the Grand Challenge initiatives at three Michigan workforce boards, Centro Community Partners, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship through online instruction and a business planning app, used a train-the-trainer approach to prepare workforce board staffers to lead classes based on the Centro curriculum. After completing the training, employees at these boards conducted small business workshops for aspiring entrepreneurs while Centro managed technical support and data collection on the back end.
While this approach aligned with the workforce boards’ existing practices of having staff lead resume writing workshops and other activities, it was also essential to making the partnership work, because Centro is a small startup that primarily offers self-guided online programming and it wasn’t big enough to have its own employees lead classes.
Broaden Your Funding Horizon
An important factor to consider as part of your project strategy is how you will allocate scarce resources in order to achieve your goals. Working with nontraditional partners is an opportunity to leverage well-established revenue streams and unlock new sources of capital. During the Future of Work Grand Challenge, Capital Workforce Partners, a workforce development organization serving the Hartford, Connecticut, area enrolled learners through WIOA programs in order to provide wraparound support services, but it also supplemented WIOA funding with philanthropic capacity-building dollars provided as part of the Grand Challenge.