In April 2011, Jobs for the Future was one of six organizations in the country to receive a Green Jobs Innovation Fund (GJIF) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. At $8 million, JFF’s grant was the largest awarded, and it funded innovative green industry training and employment programs in seven different cities: Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, DC. The project officially concluded in September 2014, and JFF is actively sharing results and lessons learned from this large-scale employment initiative.
Our Goals and Outcomes
JFF had several goals for this project. First and foremost, JFF sought to bring promising program models to scale and adapt proven methods for preparing workers for employment that simultaneously meet employer needs to varied markets and industries. We also focused on working with local funding collaboratives and their workforce partnerships to provide career advancement opportunities in green industries for unemployed and low-income employed adults. With funding and guidance provided through JFF, our partners succeeded in training over 1,200 workers. Eighty-six percent of the participants completed training and earned an industry-recognized credential, and more than 800 found new jobs at average placement wages of $14.52 that offer advancement potential. Overall, the numbers exceeded expectations and proved the worth of this program model, which features sector-focused partnerships with proven track records in aligning literacy, occupational training, support services, career coaching, and other resources that are needed to prepare lower-skilled adults to meet the expectations of employers.
Like any experiment, we learned valuable lessons through trial and error, through our successes as well as our challenges. The point we saw proved time and again—across communities, and across industries ranging from the automotive, to manufacturing, to construction trades—is that partnerships matter.
Benefits of Partnership
Oftentimes, grantees have to do it all: manage the grant, screen applicants and slot them into appropriate programs, develop relationships with employers, and provide the direct training and eventually job placement services. That’s a steep challenge, even for the most proficient organization.
JFF’s approach was to support a regional team that would work in partnership, each delivering services from their own area of expertise. Our model hinged on strong employer partners that helped to direct the training that was provided based on industry demand. Key stakeholders in workforce partnerships included:
- Regional collaboratives of public and philanthropic funders
- Regional economic development organizations
- Community or technical colleges
- Workforce Investment Boards
- Community-based organizations
In some cases, partnerships were created between organizations that hadn’t worked together before. For these fledgling relationships, they needed to keep lines of communication open in order to cultivate trust and better understand each other’s roles. In other cases, longtime partner organizations had to stretch beyond their past working relationships in order to achieve innovation.
Old or New, “Neutral Convener” is the Key
We learned that successful partnerships weren’t necessarily determined by their past relationships—or by their lack of a previous relationship. In all cases, the partners that had a “neutral convener” achieved the best results. Chicago provided an exceptionally powerful example of a new partnership that worked well, in part because the regional funding collaborative acted as a convener who called the Calumet Green Manufacturing Partnership partners together, achieved consensus on employer needs and partner roles and responsibilities, and then ensured that training programs were geared to deliver qualified workers.
Though this partnership came into existence specifically for this grant, they exceeded their goals and were one of the most impressive success stories that will be sustained beyond the federal investment.
Sometimes, Stretching Hurts
Though this grant proved that healthy, reciprocal partnerships were the key to exceeding goals and improving outcomes, another lesson we learned is that creating these partnerships is not easy. In cases where the projects lacked a clearly defined convener, the partnership tended to devolve into several organizations working along parallel tracks that didn’t clearly lead to a common goal. However, when organizations were open to retooling their approach as they went along, even these roadblocks could be overcome. In one community, the “convener” organization underwent a major shift in leadership during the project, and the focus on collaboration was lost. With hard work on their part and guidance and support from JFF, the regional funding collaborative rallied and achieved their goals.
Credentials and Jobs
So, three years later—was it all worth it? The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” With more than 1,000 workers earning an industry-recognized credential, and more than 800 workers successfully placed into employment, JFF and its partners have proven that workforce partnerships can achieve conspicuously good results that result in a more seamless process for both jobseekers and employers.
NEW RESOURCES FROM THE GREEN JOBS INNOVATION FUND PROJECT:
- Untapped Resources, Untapped Labor Pool: Using Federal Highway Funds to Prepare Women for Careers in Construction
- Pink to Green Toolkit: Adding a Gender Lens to Green Jobs Training Programs
Photography copyright 2012 Steven Purcell