Catapult Papers: Discussion

Business, Workforce and Community responses to the Catapult Papers

The Catapult Papers are designed to spur discussion. With that in mind, the authors have invited key workforce and academic leaders and members of the public to share their reactions to each paper. To submit comments to us, please email us at GqXX90+wWHdttibqH1CM4POnHNcaj/lTES15GMvG3BZcmCP27DAj1OF46Q7pTcdEa6TFNfpyX5kVjeLJtA5ULMV5sMTTNm9AA4gMwSBF3ydfZyrZFsWw9jI26EsZziiZIcUMmb+DBW5Q4YjidCPB4PUhgs57z+H1P6A0THGPObo=. Note: submitted comments are subject to review and are not guaranteed publication.

Jodi Rosenbaum, Executive Director, More Than Words

More Than Words (MTW) is a nonprofit social enterprise that empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business. Our young people learn they matter and transform their lives as part of a team running every aspect of our $3.9M book businesses, while simultaneously receiving individualized support mapping plans for their future education, work, and life.

After years of planning, MTW recently completed the physical and staff capacity expansions we needed to double our space and support 60% more young people. Reflecting upon our experience, the six key components of effective scaling from “Scaling Up: Lessons from the Front Lines” ring true. We’re grateful to Jerry Rubin for articulating each so clearly and to JVS for functioning as a prime example of their successful implementation.

As it is said, culture eats strategy for breakfast and our many years developing an entrepreneurial spirit allowed for an organizational culture that values and embraces change. I addition to culture, we set in place the resources and infrastructure needed to support programmatic growth,  proactively investing in core functions like administration, leadership, fundraising, and evaluation in preparation for the increased stress of achieving and maintaining greater scale. Once construction was underway, with the support of early philanthropic investments, we hired 12 of the 13.5 positions needed to execute our expansion before our doors even opened. We leveraged our expansion to advance a significant Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative through the growth and development of our staff and board. We invested in technology, including a shift to a new online system for scheduling youth for job training shifts and a new website to streamline external inquiries.

"More than anything, the component that speaks most directly to our experience of growth is systems change.... Shifting reality requires a change in our broader social and political structures."

But more than anything, the component that speaks most directly to our experience of growth is systems change. Our expansion has dramatically increased the number of young people we will reach, but no degree of replication will fully solve the problem at hand.

We could build a MTW bookstore in every city in America and, given the scale of the problem, system-involved youth would continue to be under-supported, demonized, and criminalized, too often undermined by the institutions and people that are meant to care for them. Shifting that reality requires a change in our broader social and political structures, one that views our most vulnerable young people as the capable, competent individuals that they are, one that holds youth to high standards while simultaneously offering them opportunities to learn and grow from failure.

As part of our growth, we’re working to disseminate our model and approach through our Training Institute designed to scale through others: supporting the launch of new work-based social enterprises, expanding elements of our program to existing organizations, and shifting hearts and minds of interested individuals. Courses are focused on empowering youth development, social enterprise strategies, and evaluation, with plans to grow our ongoing technical assistance to others. By sharing concrete and highly transferrable strategies and components of our model, we aim to drive systems-level change and redefine what social services look like for our most vulnerable young adults.

MJ Ryan, Director, Workforce Development, Partners Healthcare

I want to thank The Boston Foundation for publishing the essays on Next Gen Workforce Organizations by Jerry Rubin, President and CEO, JVS Boston, as part of the Catapult Project. As a long-time workforce development practitioner on the employer side, I found these essays informative, relevant, insightful, and inspiring.

Mr. Rubin emphasizes that training and workforce development organizations need to evolve from client-focused social service agencies to market responsive Next Gen collaborators.He identifies four key factors necessary for successful Next Gen workforce development organizations: market responsiveness, focus on job quality, environmental knowledge, and attention to policy and systems change. These factors constitute a major change in approach and will facilitate long-term and trusting relationships between employers and workforce partners.

Mr. Rubin’s observation that this is an opportune time to help employers see the value in ALL potential talent pipelines is spot on. In low unemployment periods, even employers with historically high minimum employment requirements tend to be more flexible. Employers must change their perception of the “untapped workforce,” and see them not as a “charity hires,” but rather as a vital talent pipeline that can, with proper training and preparation, become part of a long-term talent acquisition strategy. Workforce development partners have an opportunity to successfully demonstrate that potential and motivation, coupled with transferable skills, can often substitute for the degrees and credentials used to weed out rather than welcome in talent.

"Next Gen workforce organizations that invest the time to fully learn about employer needs... while respectfully educating employers on the elements necessary to create quality jobs, will become valued partners."

Strong partnerships formed now, when hiring managers are more open to new approaches, can help employers think differently in all market circumstances. Next Gen workforce organizations that invest the time to fully learn about employer needs by embedding training partners into the work environment, while respectfully educating employers on the elements necessary to create quality jobs, will become valued partners. When they demonstrate their ability to better understand employer needs and deliver on their promise of providing good candidates to fill quality jobs, the partnerships are more likely to become part of an institutionalized talent acquisition strategy. And when positive outcomes are demonstrated, employers will pay for that service as they have done historically for incumbent training services.

I echo Mr. Rubin’s statement that the time is right to “seize this moment” in workforce development. With strong competition for talent, circumstances are auspicious to build trusted, innovative, collaborative, market responsive Next Gen workforce partnerships that are effective and sustainable.

Deborah Ruhe, Executive Director, Just-A-Start

Jerry Rubin’s essays for The Catapult Papers are like JVS itself: innovative; comprehensive; dynamic; and impactful. I give Jerry great kudos for being passionately committed to sharing his insights, experience, and recommendations about the future of workforce development in the Greater Boston community, and for his transparency about the challenges and opportunities of positioning a nonprofit organization to meet the needs of its constituents.

Like JVS, Just-A-Start has deep roots in the community – for 50 years, Just-A-Start has provided housing and job training opportunities and resources to thousands of its neighbors, friends, and community partners. As a community development corporation (CDC) Just-A-Start provides housing as well as education and training programs to over 3,000 individuals every year to help build housing security and economic stability. Just-A-Start’s housing programs include affordable rental housing; homeownership development; condo resale; home improvement loans; housing stabilization and mediation; resident services; condominium stewardship services; and financial opportunity. Our education and training programs include the Biomedical Careers Program and IT Careers Program for adults and Just-A-Start YouthBuild and Youth Program for young people. This scope, diversity, and depth of programs is one of Just-A-Start’s greatest strengths in meeting the needs of a diverse community, but also one of the organization’s greatest challenges.

The insights and guidance to rethink the model for workforce development, to become market-driven, and to build capacity to assess opportunities are invaluable. This thinking and demonstrated examples are what is, ultimately, needed to increase the scale – and impact – of job training programs. As Just-A-Start continues its own strategic process to coordinate the synergy of its diverse programs; assure its own sustainability; expand its impact on community residents; and become the “Next Gen” of CDCs and go bold, we will continue to look to the expertise and guidance of community leaders like JVS and Jerry Rubin. Thank you.

Paul Osterman, Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management

The Catapult Initiative aims to reinvigorate workforce programs—efforts aimed at improving the economic prospects of those left behind in the job market—by rethinking delivery systems and relationships with the employer community.

In the first essay (of the series), Jerry Rubin, the CEO of what I believe is the most impressive example of this new thinking in the nation, lays out the basic principles of the “NextGen” design. These key insights include seeing employers as partners and meeting their needs,  taking advantage of tight labor markets to push these employer partners to improve job quality, and achieving broader impact by becoming a “player” in regional and national policy setting. Left unsaid, but certainly central, is delivering quality remedial education and training and working effectively with clients to support them as the undertake to improve their circumstances.   JVS does this too.

This first essay does an exemplary job of making these points. Nonetheless, as the essay notes,  tight labor markets will not persist indefinitely and it seems to me that a key question is how to institutionalize improvement in employer practices and improvements in larger systems so that underlying practices that generate bad labor market outcomes for so many people are transformed. Put differently, when the market turns down will employers still be interested in recruiting new employees from populations that they have ignored in the past?   Will they see benefit in maintaining career ladders that enable low wage workers to move up? Similarly, can JVS convince the larger system in which it embedded—notably schools and community colleges—to permanently improve their practices so that there is long-term system wide change at real scale. Answering these questions in the affirmative will require understanding why “bad” practices emerged and why they persisted.   And it will require developing tactics to incentivize permanent change. I think that taking these questions seriously and strategizing to answer them in the affirmative is the “Next Gen” agenda of this exemplary organization.


Molly Baldwin, Founder and CEO, Roca

At Roca, we have had the unique privilege of knowing Jerry and JVS and learning from their experience and wisdom for many years. Beyond our joint commitment to people, impact, and outcomes, we as an organization and people have experienced some parallel challenges and opportunities in the past several years. Similar to JVS, we were a pioneer in the Pay for Success funding model, and we similarly experienced the remarkable opportunity for impact and scale, along with the complexity these new funding models present. Like JVS, the dramatic changes in the labor market and the drastic changes in federal policy regarding immigrants and refugees forced us to take a hard look at our own practices, take new risks, and renew our commitment to the young people we serve. And similar to JVS, we believe that identifying new opportunities for impact in an ever-changing environment is key to building Next Generation organizations.

"We know from experience that commitment to this ongoing journey of learning is the only way to succeed..."
JVS’s lessons deeply resonate with our own learnings and provide a useful, smart, and important guide for the field. None of the lessons mentioned in this paper are easy to accomplish: changing an organization’s culture is a big task; developing staff capacity to meet the new challenges requires intentional efforts; and effective use of technology is a long march. The other lessons mentioned – financing, policy work, and strategic partnership – similarly require creativity, knowledge, and openness to learn, make mistakes, and grow. But like JVS, we know from experience that commitment to this ongoing journey of learning is the only way to succeed and the only way to be of true service to the young people we serve. And our young are absolutely worth it.

Michael Scannell, President, State Street Foundation

Thank you to The Boston Foundation, Jerry Rubin and Jewish Vocational Services for their thought leadership on this important topic of nonprofit scale. State Street is a strong proponent of the need to scale what works in Boston’s nonprofit sector and we agree that both nonprofits and funders need to do things differently if we expect improved outcomes. This belief is what led to the inception of Boston WINs (Boston Workforce Investment Network),  a multi-year,  $26 million venture philanthropy initiative led by State Street Foundation in partnership with five high-performing partners — The Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), Bottom Line, College Advising Corps (CAC), uAspire and Year Up.

A fundamental feature of the Boston WINs approach was identifying top performing, data driven nonprofits for a multiyear investment approach improving college and career readiness within Boston’s public high schools.  We also built in to the approach accountability, performance metrics, other forms of support and a hiring strategy in order to drive postsecondary and career success for Boston youth.  Given our Boston WINs experience, the six components of successful scaling outlined in Essay Two of the Catapult Papers resonated strongly within the State Street teams managing Boston WINs.

In order to achieve scale and impact, we recognized that it was important to provide financing through a multi-year investment. We intentionally selected a small cohort of high performing organizations identified through a rigorous vetting and selection process. A strong organizational culture as defined by quality staff leadership, commitment to growth, continuous improvement and a focus on measurement and results were all key criteria in our selection of WINs partners. WINs grant funds were targeted as growth capital aimed at increasing scale and building the staff capacity of the WINs partners. Finally, in addition to our financial commitment, we provided management, board service and professional development training to the partners’ staff and our employees give their time and talent  through skills-based volunteers efforts with an incentivized volunteer matching program.

"Tackling tough social issues requires a multi-sector approach involving collaboration across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors."

Our WINs goal was to maximize the collective impact of all five partners. Each of these nonprofits had been operating, quite successfully in its own lane and had perfected their respective solution to a piece of the problem. We aimed to create strategic partnerships by helping them think and work holistically and horizontally in ways they hadn’t before. One of the key ways we accomplished this was through data sharing and technology utilization. We worked with the WINs partners to customize a data management system to create a shared system for tracking student level data which the partners used to inform college and career readiness service delivery milestones and measure impact.

Boston Public Schools (BPS) has been a key strategic partner in this work. We’ve created an infrastructure, called Coordinated Action, for our partners to collaborate and complement one another’s core competencies in 26 BPS high schools. At the end of the third year of this initiative, the WINs partners jointly served approximately 30,000 Boston youth, an increase of 63% since the 2015 launch of the program. We believe we’ve built a strong infrastructure and foundation for on-going collaboration amongst the partners in BPS and are working with the school district to explore policy and systems change efforts that could further enhance student educational and career success.

Tackling tough social issues requires a multi-sector approach involving collaboration across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Jerry and the Catapult Papers have outlined a solid roadmap for how nonprofits and funders can achieve scale and we encourage others to follow this call to develop multi-sector scalable programs aimed at producing sustained outcomes.

David M Cruise, President and CEO, MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board

The Catapult Papers are an important contribution to the workforce development dialogue, and reinforce the importance of sustained employer engagement, industry-led innovation, continuous improvement, prudent risk-taking, and a commitment to open and honest communication grounded in an infrastructure committed to operational excellence.

Jewish Vocational Services in Boston (JVS) has a long and distinguished history of service in its “Own Backyard”, and beyond, and has long been a model of how to do it the right way for many of us who work in this business. As a practicing “workforce intermediary”, I also believe that without industry leadership and support, our work will never reach the scale required to truly impact today’s insatiable appetite for competent and committed talent across the entire employment continuum. Talent attraction, development, and retention is today’s economic imperative. It is OUR competitive advantage, and the differentiator between a company making it in Massachusetts or making it out of Massachusetts. We are no longer competing with other states for talent, we are competing with other countries.

"Without industry leadership and support, our work will never reach the scale required to truly impact today’s insatiable appetite for competent and committed talent across the entire employment continuum."

In implementing the strategies and goals in our five-year Pioneer Valley Labor Market Blueprint (2018-2022), our regional team recognizes that during the life of the Blueprint, innovation and disruptive technologies will spawn occupations that currently do not exist, will require educational partners and pathways that may be very different from those that are currently in place, and will necessitate developing new employer partners and cross sector partnerships.

As a publically financed workforce board, our Employer Engagement Framework is developed by a process of Discovery, Analysis, Research, and Engagement, and grounded in equity and access for all employers. As a workforce intermediary, we work hard to create trust relationships with all employers- relationships that will allow us to meet them where they stand, add value to their book of business in ways that make sense to them, and position them to become our future partners.

We applaud JVS’s success, as an additional component to their core work, in contracting with selective companies to provide training to incumbent employees and using that platform to bridge into providing fee based services to support the talent attraction, development, and retention efforts of those same employers. We agree that defining job quality is important, but using job quality to “develop a screening tool that ranks employers to determine how much to invest in the relationship” or whether to invest at all may, moving forward, exclude future employer partners that we will all need to support the Next Gen of employers and workers.