Almost six years ago, our Fund was presented with a compelling prospect to partner with the Center for Economic Opportunity in New York City, social policy research firm MDRC, and other national and local partners on a workforce development pilot called WorkAdvance. If WorkAdvance outcomes were positive, Northeast Ohio would benefit from being part of a model that worked nationally and would have access to rich data to understand how the model worked locally. Coordinated locally by Cleveland-based nonprofit Towards Employment, WorkAdvance had test sites in New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma, in addition to Northeast Ohio, and was structured as a randomized control trial, meaning some individuals received WorkAdvance services, and others did not, but were free to access other services.
Fast forward to August 2016, and results of the rigorously evaluated pilot showed WorkAdvance as a clear winner. Northeast Ohio program participants accessed more services; were 49 percent more likely to work in a targeted, in-demand sector (health care or manufacturing) and more likely to be working regular shift, fulltime, or in a permanent job, and in a job with opportunities for career advancement. On top of that, WorkAdvance participants’ earnings were on average 14 percent higher than the control group’s after two years.
What made the difference? A comprehensive set of services, tied to in-demand jobs in growing sectors with a focus on advancement (not just job placement), delivered by and coordinated through an aligned network of industry partners and service providers.
How is that different?
While comprised of some very successful organizations and service providers, our current workforce system could be likened to a disorganized potluck dinner, where the individual offerings are quite good on their own, but don't always offer all of what an individual needs to be successful (think too much meat and not enough vegetables).
WorkAdvance demonstrated that there is a better way. Our system is capable of more effectively delivering workforce services so individuals advance along a career path and into jobs that provide family-sustaining wages. And, it can connect employers to the talent they need for their businesses to prosper, at a cost that is comparable to what is spent today.
“Nothing has been tested and vetted like this model,” said Deborah Vesy, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation who leads job preparation efforts for our Fund. WorkAdvance presents immense promise, but it will require practitioners, policymakers, philanthropic funders, and private-sector businesses to work together to bring this successful model to scale.
“It is critical that local partners take up the lessons from this demonstration” Deborah added. “To that end, our Fund is committed to helping others understand the findings and how they might apply these learnings to their own organizations and communities.”
Already, the findings from WorkAdvance are influencing strategy development and investment priorities across the region and state. Notably, in Cuyahoga County, the office of the county executive, informed by business and philanthropic leadership, is advancing county-wide workforce strategies that embed WorkAdvance principles.
Additionally, The Raymond John Wean Foundation, a Fund member, is supporting the continuation of WorkAdvance delivery in the Mahoning Valley.
“When powerful work such as this aligns with our mission, it is our responsibility to leverage resources—human and capital—to support organizations so that all who seek access are included,” said Wean Foundation President Jennifer Roller. “We look forward to the day when WorkAdvance can deliver services that empower residents to create a healthy, vibrant and economically stable Northeast Ohio.”
More details on the local impact of WorkAdvance and next steps can be found here. For more information on how the principles are being embedded locally or for a briefing on the results, contact Director of Job Preparation Janine Kaiser.