San Diego: Reimagining the Role of Workforce Boards to Support Retailers and Workers

“Reimagine Retail has been important, foundation-building work toward shifting the trajectory of where the workforce board is going. This in turn helps us shift the trajectory of other organizations we fund in our community. We wouldn’t truly be solving challenges if we stopped at, ‘Does a person get placed?’ The Workforce Partnership has shifted to viewing retail as a thriving sector with a lot of potential. The best way we can help employers is to show them how to maximize their employees’ potential, which is important for helping their business thrive. How can retailers invest in their workforce to be more valuable and effective?”

— Sarah Burns, San Diego Workforce Partnership

A worker at Goodwill Industries of San Diego County – a San Diego Workforce Partnership partner and subject of a Reimagine Retail publication – sorts clothing.

A worker at Goodwill Industries of San Diego County – a San Diego Workforce Partnership partner and subject of a Reimagine Retail publication – sorts clothing.

Through Reimagine Retail, San Diego Workforce Partnership (Workforce Partnership) has demonstrated that a workforce board can be the engine behind a regional systems change effort to support worker mobility and business performance. The Workforce Partnership notes that Reimagine Retail has helped it shift from a focus on direct service delivery to strategies for driving systemic change. Over three years, the Workforce Partnership has strengthened its focus on retail and now serves as a stronger advocate for the industry’s workers and businesses. Aspen EOP and CSW have worked closely with the Workforce Partnership’s skilled research team to conduct qualitative and quantitative research on San Diego’s labor market, including on cross-border purchasing and employment patterns, the impact of new minimum wage legislation, racial disparity, and the future of retail jobs. The Workforce Partnership combined analysis of standard labor-market data with field research data, such as focus groups with workers and interviews with business leaders, drawing on a richer array of sources than is commonly available to workforce boards in their industry analyses. Research findings – captured in an interactive retail report, webinar, focus group report, and research methodology guide – continue to shape the Workforce Partnership’s service delivery to workers and engagement strategies with retail businesses.

Released in March 2019, the Workforce Partnership’s innovative regional and local plan for San Diego and Imperial County guides their expenditure of state funds and reflects the new approaches. The first pillar of the plan is job quality, which the Workforce Partnership describes as “simultaneously producing outstanding outcomes for businesses and their frontline workers.” The Workforce Partnership is putting these values into action by directing job-seekers toward best-fit opportunities, publicly recognizing businesses with worker-friendly practices, and training its business services team to engage more deeply with employers on practice change — atypical approaches for a workforce board. An Aspen EOP profile on Goodwill Industries of San Diego County, a Workforce Partnership grantee, offers practical strategies for businesses to increase training, internal mobility and productivity in response to a minimum-wage increase.


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Reimagine Retail explores ways to enhance job quality and improve mobility for the retail workforce. Reimagine Retail is a project of the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program. Learn how EOP is helping low- and moderate-income Americans and thrive in a changing economy. Join our mailing list and follow us on social media to learn about events, publications, blog posts, and more.

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