Project Catapult Launches First in Catapult Papers Series on The Future of Workforce Development

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We are experiencing one of the strongest and most sustained periods of economic growth in American history—accompanied by unprecedented levels of income inequality. That growth has led to the current tight labor market with its continued proliferation of skilled jobs, which, in combination with anticipated attrition due to Baby Boomer retirements, has created a never-before-seen tension between the demand to fill jobs and the lack of supply ready to fill those jobs.

That tension requires a more robust workforce development solution. For example, with historically tight job markets, employers are desperate for talent. They are now willing to consider previously disregarded sources of labor and new approaches to recruitment and retention. This not only offers greater economic opportunity to lower-income individuals, but it creates a competitive business advantage for the employer. To meet these extraordinary challenges and opportunities, we need a very different approach, a new kind of “Next Gen” workforce organization that can launch untapped talent into new opportunities at a much faster, more direct and sustained rate and support the long-term success of both workers and employers via advancement, retention and strong employment practices. It also requires accompanying investment by philanthropy and government to make Next Gen workforce development a reality.

Enter Project Catapult: a new way of doing workforce development that will be valued by employers and will support longer-term economic mobility for jobseekers and employees.

Next Generation Workforce Development Organizations for Our Times

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The goal of Catapult is to invest in the exponential growth of Greater Boston’s most effective, market-driven training and education organizations in partnership with the region’s most savvy businesses in order to leverage the region’s potential for sustaining talent via the workforce system.

Today, in partnership with the Boston Foundation, SkillWorks is proud to release the first of The Catapult Papers, a series of four essays on the future of workforce development and the kinds of workforce organizations we need in order to expand opportunity for lower-income individuals and create competitive advantages for businesses in need of workers. Based on the innovative and field-proven practices of JVS Boston’s own transition experience, and produced as a partnership between JVS Boston, SkillWorks and the Boston Foundation, these four papers tackle the key features organizations must embrace to succeed in the changing economy.

Reflecting on the innovative and field-proven practices of JVS Boston’s own transition to become a Next Gen workforce organization—rooted in decades of field research, experimentation, evaluation, failure and success—The Catapult Papers argue that Next Gen workforce development organizations must incorporate four key features:

1. Become Market Responsive

  • Build a market-responsive organization that has a strong customer-service culture and delivers high-quality services to employers, while meeting their mission of providing opportunity to lower-income, lower-skill constituents.
  • Get paid by employers for their valuable services.
  • Tap untapped sources of labor, including immigrants, opportunity youth, the chronically unemployed, disabled individuals and others—by matching their talents to employer needs, and effectively preparing them to succeed in the workplace.

2. Don’t Accept “Just Any Job”

  • Focus on job quality.
  • Create a flexible definition of job quality.
  • Be selective about employer partners based on job quality.
  • Negotiate terms of employment for their clients—focusing on improved wages, benefits, hours, schedules and other key features—that workers want and “employers of choice” must provide in this tight job market.
  • Get “under the tent” and “go beyond training” with their employer partners, to help ensure successful recruitment, retention and advancement of employees.

3. Know Your Own Backyard

  • Be known and valued by major employers in key industries in their region
  • Be known and valued by key stakeholders in their region.

4. Be Bold and Go Big

  • Change policy and systems at the state and federal level to better enable workforce organizations to help both employers and workers.
  • Go for scale. With historically tight labor markets and stubbornly high opportunity gaps, Next Gen workforce organizations have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to thoughtfully explore how to expand their services and impact.

Read the first in The Catapult Papers series online. catapultpapersicon

We will be releasing the subsequent three papers every two weeks from today, leading up to The Catapult Papers Forum, taking place on March 7th, 8:30-10:30 a.m. in the Edgerly Center for Civic Leadership at The Boston Foundation. The invitation and registration link will be forthcoming.

Additionally, these papers are not meant to be released into the void as an unfunded mandate; these papers are meant to spark a radically new and thoughtful conversation around doing workforce development in a new way. To this end, we will publish any and all thoughtful and productive responses on the Project Catapult webpage.

To submit comments and/or learn more about the forum on March 7th, please contact: catapult@tbf.org

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Author: SkillWorks

SkillWorks is a nationally recognized workforce funder collaborative, launched by the Boston Foundation in 2003 to improve workforce development in Boston and across Massachusetts. SkillWorks brings together philanthropy, government, community organizations and employers to address the twin goals of: 1) Helping low-skill, low-income individuals attain family-supporting jobs; and 2) Helping employers find and retain skilled employees.

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