Employment and Jobs

The Path Forward: Create Deputy Mayor Position and Establish an Advisory Council for Lifelong Learning

December 14, 2020  • Zach Neumann & Alastair Fitzpayne

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.


For cities to move from simply having a set of disparate assets to building a lifelong learning system, mayors must take ownership and lead. City-level education and training systems are decentralized and responsive to varying mandates from federal, state, local, and philanthropic funders. To develop a more coherent system will require ongoing coordination, the commitment of time and financial resources, and the sustained engagement of employers, educators, labor unions, and workers.

Create a Deputy Mayor for Lifelong Learning to Build and Lead a City-level Body to Integrate and Coordinate Resources

To start, mayors seeking to promote lifelong learning should create a new position—Deputy Mayor for Lifelong Learning—within their offices that can lead the effort to coordinate among the key stakeholders of the city’s lifelong learning system. Educators and employers in Chicago, Phoenix, and Hartford have indicated that guidance from the Mayor’s office is critical to building an integrated, city-level learning system. Importantly, this position would create a single point of contact in city government and a mandate to build a system that better serves adult learners.

The Deputy Mayor for Lifelong Learning would be responsible for better connecting the postsecondary education and workforce system with the needs of the city’s employer community, convening these stakeholders on a regular basis, developing tools for employers and workers that support broader awareness and connectivity across the system, and responding to equity challenges. This Office should have experience in education and workforce development, as well as relationships across the city’s postsecondary training system, including the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

As an example of this type of role, the City of Chicago established a Director of Workforce Innovation position under Mayor Rahm Emanuel to convene and align stakeholders and programs. The role involves connecting employers, trainers, and educators to strengthen post-secondary learning opportunities. Due to budget constraints, this position was funded through support from local philanthropy.

Without control over resources, the Director has to rely on the influence of the mayor’s office to impact policy and effect change. Additional formal support, in the form of direct-reports, program management capacity, and control over city-level training resources could increase the effectiveness of the Director to create a systemic approach to providing education and training to adult learners in Chicago.

Establish a Lifelong Learning Advisory Council

Along with the appointment of a Deputy Mayor for Lifelong Learning, Mayors should establish a city-wide Lifelong Learning Advisory Council that is convened by the Deputy Mayor on a monthly or quarterly basis. This Council would include representatives from the city’s government institutions (including the public school and library system), organizations representing large and small employers, worker advocates, workforce boards, education and training providers (four-year universities, community colleges, private and non-profit training providers), and other local nonprofits and philanthropic organizations that provide funding, services, or train adult workers.

The Council would be tasked with guiding and supporting the integration of the city’s education and training systems with employers. This may include designing cross-institutional pathways (e.g. improving connections between two and four-year colleges), developing a city-level digital platform that helps residents identify employment opportunities and understand the experience or skills necessary to perform the job, conduct research and program evaluation, and promote equity. While the membership and focus of the Advisory Council will evolve, its mission should remain constant.

Leverage Federal and State Resources, and Engage the Philanthropic and Employer Community to Raise Funds to Build Lifelong Learning System

Cities seeking to better coordinate and integrate existing education and training opportunities will need additional resources. At a moment when COVID-19 is reducing local revenues and the capabilities of cities to meet their basic needs, cities will need to be creative in the pursuit of additional resources. As discussed, local organizations that provide education and training rely on both federal and state funds for operational expenses. With new federal and state legislation aimed at addressing the employment crisis, cities should make sure to leverage additional federal and state resources where possible. For example, in 2009, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) competitive grant program was created. This program authorized $1.9 billion in grants and made grants to 630 community colleges and 99 four-year colleges nationwide. More recently, the CARES Act provided $345 million in dislocated worker grants to states and localities throughout the U.S.

In addition to leveraging existing and new government programs, another important source of new funding is a city’s employer and philanthropic community. Already there are employer-led efforts to help displaced and frontline workers find employment. Various philanthropies are also partnering with employers and education and training providers to develop additional public-private partnerships to address the economic crisis that workers are facing. Cities should encourage these partnerships and ensure that the Mayor’s office is connected to these efforts.

New funds could be used to develop and maintain a jobs and training digital platform, evaluate education and training programs, provide funding to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Lifelong Learning, and develop an equity strategy for the city’s education and training programs. Because early integration work will be challenging and require flexibility, these funds should be unrestricted and their deployment at the discretion of the Deputy Mayor. While local workforce boards play a leading role in the distribution of WIOA funding to local training providers, mayors and city councils should explore the feasibility of providing dedicated funding to support building a lifelong learning system.

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