Cities are well positioned to build lifelong learning systems that can help workers pursue education and training throughout their careers. With the power to convene and connect stakeholders, including employers and training providers, highlight skill and job needs, and conduct evaluations of existing programs, city governments can address many of the challenges outlined in this report. To date, however, cities have not played a prominent role in helping adult residents access or understand what education and training options are available.
This blog post is an excerpt from the Future of Work Initiative’s report, Building A Lifelong Learning System: A Roadmap for Cities, and is part of a series of blogs highlighting the recommendations made in the report—the concrete steps mayors and city leaders can take to build integrated and effective lifelong learning systems. The Future of Work Initiative is grateful to the Cognizant U.S. Foundation for providing financial support for this project and publication.
To build an effective lifelong learning system, cities will need to increase transparency across the city’s employment and training system. This effort should include the development of a jobs and training digital platform to guide job seekers, employers, and education and training providers; the creation of new pathways and partnerships; the provision of counseling services to workers and students; and new, more equitable approaches to engaging adult learners and workers.
Build a Digital Platform that Connects Workers with Training Providers, Employers, and Labor Market Information
The Deputy Mayor should collaborate with the Advisory Council to build a city-level digital platform that connects job-seekers and workers with information related to learning, training, and future employment prospects. (For more context on the proposed Deputy Mayor position and Advisory Council for Lifelong Learning, read the first blog in this series.) Rather than searching on dozens of online job boards, this platform would provide a one-stop site that would allow workers to search for job opportunities throughout the city. The platform would identify specific jobs and specify the experience, skills, and training needed to apply for a position. Ideally, the platform could help users better understand the time and cost of seeking further education and training, while providing program outcomes where data is available.
Once operational, all city residents would be able to create an account and view available job opportunities, training options, and information about employers that operate in the city. In addition, they could post their resumes on the platform in order to allow employers in the city to identify possible job candidates. At the same time, education and training providers would be able to share information about the various credentials or programs they offer, what jobs they lead to, and the cost and duration of these programs. Similarly, employers could use the platform to post job opportunities, search for job candidates, and connect current employees with further training opportunities.
Some cities have already developed online platforms for workers and learners. The city of South Bend, Indiana worked with the Drucker Institute to develop Bendable, a digital platform that allows residents to access education and training opportunities and current labor market information. In Phoenix, Arizona, Pipeline AZ was developed with input from businesses, educators, and workforce organizations to deliver a local solution for job seekers and students. Pipeline AZ is a workforce digital platform helping individuals assess their skills and talents and identify industries and positions in which such skills and talents are desired. Similarly, Singapore has rolled out an online tool, MyCareersFuture.sg portal, that builds stronger connections between workers, training providers, and employers.
For the Deputy Mayor for Lifelong Learning, the creation of this digital platform will help address challenges adult workers face understanding what jobs are available and the training needed to apply for those jobs. In addition, the site could describe career paths, and help create a more equitable education and training ecosystem. However, a digital platform will need to be supported by committed partners, strong community input and dialogue, and an organization that continually evolves to respond to new challenges. As Rick Wartzman of the Drucker Institute has noted, “Lifelong learning won’t happen with the click of a button. And successful learning programs won’t be powered by an algorithm. They will be powered by community.”
Expand Career Counseling
In light of the blizzard of different credentials, programs, and job boards, adult learners would benefit from easier access to career navigation services. Career counselors link job seekers or lifelong learners with experts that can help with complex decisions around what training options to pursue and how they can connect to specific opportunities. As organizations like Skillful have shown, access to career counselors can lead to better, more informed decisions about training and career options. Counselors can help workers evaluate a training program’s potential return on investment, and better assess the potential career path that would result from education and training. Cities should pursue state and federal resources, in addition to philanthropic opportunities, to expand the number of counselors available.
In some parts of the U.S., expanded counseling is already connecting workers with job opportunities. In Phoenix and across the state of Arizona, ARIZONA@WORK provides free career counseling and placement services to job seekers. The program also covers the cost of accredited, approved training options that are tied to labor market demand. In Hartford, Capital Workforce Partners, the regional workforce board, in conjunction with the local American Jobs Centers, provides career and training guidance, resume review, interview prep, and job placement services, and with funding from the Hartford Foundation, job retention supports for workers new to the workforce. The use of career counselors is also being utilized by employers and intermediaries—like Guild Education—that invest in providing counseling services for the entire duration that employees are participating in training programs.
Based on research and survey work, workers and labor organizations report that career counseling can return displaced workers to the workforce more rapidly, improve wages, and reduce anxiety. Research conducted on related counseling programs suggests that workers with access to counselors’ experience face less indecision, higher career satisfaction, and faster job transitions. A lifelong learning system needs to include strong support systems, including assistance from a counselor or coach, that are designed to help workers complete education and training programs.
Identify New Pathways to Training for Workers
Workers pursuing post-secondary education and training can encounter barriers to entering a new course or program, including a required prior educational credential or a lengthy application process. For example, some post-secondary programs require either a high school degree or a GED. The Deputy Mayor for Lifelong Learning, along with other key stakeholders, should evaluate whether these types of requirements are always necessary.
In order to break down the barriers workers face, such as with guidance from school administrators and admissions officers as well as worker advocates, the Deputy Mayor should work to ensure that applications for education and training programs are easy to understand and complete, applicants are only asked to demonstrate skills that are necessary to participate in the program and can demonstrate required skills in different ways, and are not charged excessive fees. Further, education and training providers should develop alternative pathways, including skills remediation programs for learners who do not meet entrance requirements, and effective outreach and application guidance to underserved populations.
Develop Partnerships that Serve Workers and Employers
A successful lifelong learning system will depend upon the ability of employers and a range of education and training providers to develop effective partnerships. A priority for the Deputy Mayor of Lifelong Learning will be to help develop additional partnerships between employers and education and training providers, improving outcomes across the city’s workforce system. There are examples of sector-based strategies that have shown positive results and involve training for jobs across employers that should be pursued where possible.
There are also examples of cities benefiting from expanded public-private training partnerships where community colleges, universities, and other training providers work with local companies to design programs that lead directly to high-demand jobs. Participating workers may pay some share of the cost of training, or this may be offset by employer contributions for those who complete the program. In Connecticut, financial services companies have paired with state workforce organizations and the community college system to offer pathways into high-demand roles.
Promote Inclusive Programs
The ability to create a city-wide lifelong learning system depends upon whether the residents of the city are aware of the opportunities that are available, and have the ability to participate in them in a way that fits their everyday life. The creation of a digital platform should make it easier to access relevant information about jobs and training opportunities. However, cities will need to take additional steps to increase awareness of these new resources. One example, mentioned previously, is the City of South Bend, Indiana that has branded itself as the “City of Lifelong Learning” and anchored efforts around its library system to raise awareness. While outreach should be targeted broadly, there should be specific efforts to ensure that populations that have historically been underserved by post-secondary training opportunities, low-wage workers, and those who have been displaced from their jobs are reached.
In some cities, these campaigns have been run through existing employers; in others, through community organizations that provide services and support to underserved populations. Though there is no single template or method for disseminating information and counseling related to training, it is important that cities take steps to build awareness of these opportunities.