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 EHpn323fRljDPWrG++bmcPvGOablns91LZmcdna2jSYnYhyHFE/kMrryvNXcwPEf1KSTI2xDl7xND3cnR8hEcj/fHEyeLpw7MEuAx23vfM7N55FnNbnTUiEuOeKhH1KCI4S2lgNDTjtnIxOVybmxN+Il7Hq3q2E6F1g6t8vbaBY=. Note: submitted comments are subject to review and are not guaranteed publication.
Bob Dame, Executive Director, Year Up Greater Boston
Thanks to Catapult and the Boston Foundation for elevating the dialogue on workforce development. I applaud Jerry Rubin and JVS’s leadership in modeling what a Next Gen workforce organization looks like and for leading efforts to permanently change the job landscape for our most vulnerable populations. JVS is not just teaching people to fish; it is out to transform the whole fishing industry.
Year Up has had success using the formula Jerry proposed to grow to scale. Launched here in Boston with 22 students in 2000, Year Up now serves over 4700 students per year across 25 U.S. cities. More than 24,000 students have been served by the Year Up program to date, which includes up to six months of intensive training in soft and hard skills, followed by a six-month internship at top employers like State Street, Harvard University, and Wayfair. We’ve maintained high quality as we’ve grown. The 2018 study sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services concluded that Year Up graduates showed a 53% wage gain. These earnings impacts are the largest reported to date for workforce programs tested using a randomized controlled trial (RCT) design.
However, we’re aware of the limits to scaling our current model. Year Up is on a path to expand to 10,000 students nationwide in four years, but there are over 5M youth in the US who are out of school and out of work and are unable to find a path to self-sufficiency or a family-sustaining wage. 5,000,000 – 10,000 = a really big number.
So what comes after organizations have worked more effectively to grow their operations? What would the “Next” Next Gen workforce organization look like?
Year Up is an outreach-to-outcomes model; that is, we work with students from recruitment to employment. In our model, we do the following to connect students to employers who need skilled talent:
Next Next Gen may mean applying these same eight principles not only to support more students in one organization like Year Up, but to develop a more efficient talent marketplace for all of Massachusetts, to go from organization scale to system scale.
Think Boston WINs, a successful initiative of coordinated action, and then multiply it 100 times. Envision a coalition of partners in business, government, education, and non-profit, each with strengths in one or more in the bullets above, working in concert to match talent effectively with employers. Imagine using the concepts that have made Massachusetts a leader in the global economy—machine learning, data analysis, and coding— to create new ways to address the breakdowns in our market.
Next Next Gen partners may use common algorithms that assess new immigrants in Lynn and high school students in Boston according to the competencies our employers need most. Next Next Gen partners may track their students in a single operating system across the dozens of training providers in our region, so that we build on each other’s work. Next Next Gen partners may engage managers at hundreds of companies to ensure that talent, once hired, prosper in their role.
At Year Up, we are in our infancy in exploring what Next Next Gen might look like, but this is our next step. We look forward to joining partners interested in exploring these ideas here in Massachusetts.
John O’Leary, Deloitte Center for Government Insights
Reading the first papers in the Catapult series from The Boston Foundation reinforces a growing sense that workforce development is at an inflection point. The way that many companies, non-profits, and governments are approaching the challenge of preparing workers with the skills that they need—and that companies need—is undergoing big changes. Call it next gen workforce, the future of work, or a paradigm shift, but change is in the air.
In the Boston area, non-profits such as Jewish Vocational Services, or JVS, are leveraging the high demand for workers to forge a new approach to workforce development that goes well beyond mere training. Centered on working closely with companies to understand the skills they need, this can be thought of as “business-driven” workforce development. (This approach is discussed in the Deloitte Center for Government Insights research on “Closing the talent gap.”)
Jerry Rubin, President and CEO of JVS and author of the first Catapult paper, lists the first principle for success as “Being market responsive.” This business focus represents a shift—as Rubin notes: “[W]orkforce development has been largely a human-service endeavor built in the context of the anti-poverty drive of the early and mid-1960s.” According to Rubin, this approach limits success for workers, and is neither sustainable nor scalable: “Employers make hiring decisions based on their business needs, and rarely their social responsibility.”
As we see continued economic disruption brought about by technological innovation, offshoring, and the “gig economy,” it will be important to rethink workforce development efforts. For those engaged in lower-skilled work, manual labor, and some services, the evolution of the economy has often been painful. Indeed, it is likely those at the lower end of the economic scale whose jobs are more susceptible to automation.
Paradoxically, putting companies first may boost the success for job seekers. Being market responsive often translates in practice to working hand in glove with companies to discover the skills they are looking for, and then ensuring that those getting upskilled can perform in such a job. The approach has the potential to be win-win for business and workers, and should be an area of growing interest to public sector workforce efforts as well.
Jim Klocke, CEO, Massachusetts Nonprofit Network
I’d like to thank The Boston Foundation, Jerry Rubin, and Jewish Vocational Services for publishing these important thought pieces on workforce development.
As the Commonwealth’s statewide nonprofit association, MNN brings together nonprofits, funders, business leaders, and elected officials to strengthen nonprofits and raise the sector’s voice on critical issues. Nonprofits are a critical economic engine, providing 550,000 jobs and employing over 17% of the state’s workforce. Many of the recommendations offered through this series apply to nonprofits not just as workforce development and service providers, but as employers themselves.
The first essay, “How JVS is Re-Tooling for a New Economy,” makes a number of significant points. Its “Next Generation” workforce development innovations can be applied in many parts of the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits compete each day for funding, contracts, and sometimes clients. As a result, being market-responsive is smart - and often not at odds with a service-oriented mission.
Implementing a fee-for-service model in any nonprofit requires careful forecasting and research. In turn, earned income from those served can be a great signal of program effectiveness, even if the earned income only covers a small part of program costs. This essay points out that generally, a market-responsive approach requires a shift in organizational culture, which can be difficult, takes time, and requires careful planning. At JVS, creating a new division to focus on market responsivity facilitated innovation, focused attention, and provided clarity and space for a new strategy. Paired with a traditional, client-focused service approach, the integration of select relevant business strategies within nonprofits’ organizational planning and delivery systems can be powerful.
The second essay, “Scaling Up: Lessons from the Front Lines,” offers great insights about increasing scale and impact. It notes the importance of a systems approach to ensuring quality control when scaling. The discussion on staffing capacity is particularly pertinent to the nonprofit sector: in order for service organizations to expand programmatic reach without sacrificing program quality and therefore impact, an organization must have a strong backbone of administrative capacity. A well-rounded fundraising strategy must include a balance of project-specific grants with sources of operational support, and funding incentives must be appropriately aligned with mutually shared goals around quality and sustainability.
The third essay, “Not Just Any Job,” highlights challenges that are present in the nonprofit sector; nonprofits may be more limited in their ability to become an ‘employer of choice’ than for-profits. Yet the discussion about understanding what motivates prospective employees is extremely relevant. Many looking for work in the nonprofit sector are mission-driven and seek an alignment of values with their employer. This is something that nonprofits can capitalize upon and set themselves apart as an employer of choice in a tight job market.
Finally, the series raises important reminders about the importance of transparent communication and information-sharing. It shows, by example, how sharing lessons learned can accelerate nonprofits’ journey along the path of growth, innovation, and continuous improvement of services rendered to those who depend on nonprofits each day.
Marie Downey, Founder and Executive Director, BEST Hospitality Training
The Catapult Papers’ workforce development blueprint is similar to what BEST has been doing for ten years:
There is one absolutely critical component of BEST’s success, however, that was only mentioned once, briefly, in Catapult Paper One: worker power. BEST’s model is based on a long-standing model that works for both the employer and the worker: funded labor-management education and training programs created through collective action. The Boston Foundation’s Paul Grogan cites BEST’s labor-management program as doing “exemplary work”. Other local examples are Building Pathways and the multiple building trades’ apprenticeship programs.
I am thrilled that the tight labor market has led to a wider discussion about quality jobs. But what happens when the economy turns? Have we forgotten, so quickly, the case of the Hyatt 100? Those hotel employers provided “quality jobs” to 99 housekeepers across three Boston area Hyatt hotels. And then, as happens, shareholder pressure became too much. Overnight these good jobs became very, very bad jobs.
As Maureen Conway of the Aspen Institute wrote recently, "Restoring worker voice will be critical to restoring the dignity of work and faith in the American Dream.” Historically and today, strong unions correlate with good wagesand working conditions, aka a “quality job”. In Catapult Paper #3, Jerry Rubin mentions the three decades after WWII where, “American workers could count on steadily rising standards of living, fueled by consistent robust economic growth and … shared prosperity.” Not coincidentally, those were decades of strong labor unions, our country’s most prominent version of worker power.
There is an inherent imbalance of power between employers and workers. The tension between shareholders and workers will always exist. So, let’s push the needle even further. Let’s figure out a way to give the worker voice and agency and collective bargaining power. I don’t know whether you call it a “union” or “collective bargaining” or “worker voice”. Maybe it’s changing laws or influencing funding priorities. Maybe it’s revising tax policy. But let’s do whatever it takes to balance the playing field. Then, truly, will we have achieved lasting quality jobs that work for both the employer and the employee.
Gregg Croteau, MSW, Chief Executive Officer, UTEC
Thanks to Jerry Rubin and Rouguiatou Diallo for their insights on “Tapping the Untapped Workforce,” identifying five key areas for both employers and workforce-development programs to develop to best meet both workers’ and companies’ needs. We appreciate their insights and Catapult’s overall aim to connect workforce programs and employers to best serve the “untapped workforce.”
UTEC shares the authors’ focus on prioritizing “demonstrated transferable skills” rather than direct experience in a specific role. With twenty years of serving proven-risk young people, we have learned from what has worked in our programs – and what has not.
We often say that motivation is not an entrance criteria for our program, which engages young adults with serious barriers to employment and stability. We recognize that our young adults need time to develop to have the “show up” skills that are essential in any workplace.
Our social enterprise model is designed as a safe space to fail while gaining work experience. Our young adults need time to build both life skills and work-related skills that align with employer needs. Our social enterprises offer multiple chances for young adults to make common workplace mistakes before they reach higher-stakes external employment.
Rubin and Diallo highlight the paradigm shift of “hiring for potential rather than pedigree.” This summarizes the highest barrier to employment that UTEC’s young adults face as they transition from incarceration or gang involvement to stable, safe employment. One of UTEC’s core values is “seeing beyond the mask,” and this may be the hardest ask for employer partners.
To ask employers to see potential, we know that young people must also demonstrate personal competencies - perhaps even more important than their vocational skills. Young people who have spent more time on the streets than in a traditional workplace often need the most time and coaching in life skills, rather than industry skills. UTEC’s small work crews within the social enterprises are intentional; we ensure that staff program managers have time to coach young people individually on positive communication, accepting feedback, and conflict resolution, with peers or supervisors.
Our strongest employer partners are those who commit to continuing this coaching. Like Resilient Coders, we help employers see the growth our young people have made in our program and to envision how much further they will develop with their next supportive employer. Our young people’s insights, tenacity and problem-solving skills are natural assets for any employer who welcomes the chance to collaborate with young adults on meaningful professional development.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.