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Community Connections: Building Effective Partnerships for Improved Learner Employment Record Outcomes

July 1, 2024

At a glance

The Manufacturing Readiness project explored the types of organizations that drive success on a technology-driven pilot. Key components of success are having diverse stakeholders committed to mission alignment, leadership buy-in, and clear communication.

Madeleine Chaisson Senior Program Manager
Practices & Centers

Learner employment records (LERs) are digital records of an individual’s earned education or experience, serving as virtual credentials that translate lived experiences into concrete job qualifications. Achievements, experience records, credentials, and diplomas are often kept by the institutions that provide them. LERs provide an opportunity for individuals to own their information and easily share credentials with potential employers.

Coworkers in a meeting at the officeLERs can be made even more accessible as CBO programs work to integrate these types of digital records and digital storage via wallets into existing programs. While innovative organizations have shown interest in issuing LERs or using them throughout business practice, widespread adoption will be needed for LERs to make a difference for jobseekers. This level of systems change will require partnerships between employers, sectors, and solutions providers; partnership and clear communication are crucial for maintaining credibility, forging new paths toward an equitable job force, and encouraging widespread adoption of LERs into existing ecosystems.

Jobs for the Future (JFF) collaborated with Solutions for Information Design (SOLID) and the Manufacturing Institute to implement the Manufacturing Readiness project, with funding from Walmart. The partners created and tested a platform for military service members and veterans to translate their skills into civilian manufacturing-related occupations. A mapping process developed in first phase of the project allows these individuals to upload military transcripts and see which of their experiences align with one or more of 11 badges created. The badges are examples of LERs, which individuals can store in a digital wallet for access whenever needed. Over the course of an eight-month period and in partnership with community-based organizations, this pilot reached 476 individuals who created accounts, translated their military records using a technical platform (e.g. joint service transcript) and earned 1,936 badges for entry-level needs in manufacturing as digital records of their knowledge and skills earned through military experience.

The partnerships established in this project illustrate the need for diverse backgrounds and voices to be included in the development of future LER ecosystems.

Types of Partners

The Manufacturing Readiness project served as a case study to determine the types of partners needed for success. Unsurprisingly, a delicate balance of organizational types works best, with each focused on improving its individual and collective policies for the benefit of the end user: the jobseeker. The types identified by the pilot were the following:

  • Vendors or technology providers, such as SOLID, that work with JFF to translate skills to an appropriate badge and ensure that the technology to do so is aligned with a variety of standards. SOLID led the technical work of the pilot, incorporating feedback from partners along the way.
  • Industry or sector partners, such as the Manufacturing Institute, to provide credibility based on industry-specific standards (in this case, standards from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council). The Manufacturing Institute served as the project management lead and the bridge between the technical work and the community-based organizations (CBOs) providing training.
  • Employer partners that understand the need for engaging workers with a variety of credentials and degrees. Such partners are searching for talent that is eager to continue learning and has proven experience, and they perceive LER badges as a means to signa across educational backgrounds, streamlining the hiring process.
  • CBOs providing population specific resources to jobseekers, veterans and servicemembers in this case, are crucial partners. The pilot would not have been a success without Hire Heroes USA (HHUSA) and Heroes MAKE America (HMA). These organizations offer direct access to jobseekers and are strategic partners in ensuring jobseekers begin to engage with these digital forms of record keeping and skill signaling. In this project, these partners facilitated introductions between the Manufacturing Readiness team and their clients, inviting these jobseekers to test the platform and earn badges.

Among other activities, both HHUSA and HMA staff participated in orientations to learn more about using the Manufacturing Readiness platform and why it is needed. They fielded questions and collected feedback for the project team to use in real-time updates and evaluations. Their feedback was essential to all the partners, allowing them to collaboratively innovate based on proven needs. The experience suggests that collaborative information flow between partners provides the smoothest and most equitable path to wider and sustainable LER adoption.

The success of the partnerships in the pilot illustrates the need to include diverse backgrounds and voices in the development of LER ecosystems. The varied perspectives provided by SOLID, the Manufacturing Institute, the CBOs, and JFF all contributed to a robust pilot that engaged more individuals than anyone had anticipated. The pilot was successful in engaging participants and determining some key aspects of successful partnerships when tackling LER integration.

Building a Good Coalition of Partners for LERs

During the pilot, we identified three crucial components of success when working with LERs: mission alignment across partners, leadership buy-in, and transparent and consistent communication. To distill even further, it comes down to trust. Each organization and staff member had to trust that everyone else was acting in the best interests of the project while contributing their subject-matter expertise, with the shared goal of proving that LERs can benefit a variety of learners and workers.

  • The intentional braiding of skills and perspectives fostered the necessary mission alignment to keep the project on track. Our CBO partners HHUSA and HMA gave the group a framework for how to engage participants and invaluable advice about which of their clients would be the best fit for participating in the pilot. Input from JFF’s Research and Evaluation team provided further clarification and provided a shared vision for the project. As a result each organization was able to contribute toward reaching a common objective.
  • After the first month or so of the project, mission alignment was clearly defined, which opened the path to gaining leadership buy-in. Leaders of all the project partners often attended team meetings to provide clarity and focus on the big picture of changing the LER ecosystem. Their perspectives and commitment to the work spurred the team to look ahead while working on the pilot and consider other important pieces not yet incorporated. This included speaking at conferences, publishing thought leadership, and sharing the badges through Credential Engine.
  • While communication might seem like an obvious contributor to any successful project, it was important to recognize that engaging organizations that have very different roles and types of expertise can require highly nuanced communication. Within the Manufacturing Readiness team, simple tools such as a shared document folder and the project management tool Asana kept everyone on the same page. For external communication, the team developed a FAQ page and user guide containing information for CBOs, participants, and employers. Hosting regular information sessions and office hours also provided opportunities for individuals to engage with the team and ask questions.

These factors led to this pilot’s success and allowed the partners to establish a strong foundation for future work.

Future projects will need to focus on how to best socialize employers to move more quickly in adopting LERs and how to best support jobseekers looking to leverage digital badges.

The Future of LERs in Workforce Development

JFF is committed to expanding equitable access to LERs and other technology that support individuals’ access to quality jobs. As JFF navigates the changing landscape of LERs and digital credentials, we will share what we learn with the broader community of organizations and individuals working toward the same goal. JFF is currently involved in several projects related to LER access with partners including the International Rescue Committee and IBM. These projects are building on the successes of the Manufacturing Readiness project to make LERs more commonly and easily integrated into CBO offerings and employer hiring practices.

Employers are beginning to include LERs in their hiring processes, and the Manufacturing Readiness project focused on socializing these ideas with the hiring staff of manufacturers that are focused on serving veterans. As of now, jobseekers who have digital badges can be met with confusion, and they can be frustrated when asked to explain them. Employers committed to equitably engaging talent will move quickly to remove these barriers. Future projects will need to focus on how to best socialize employers to move more quickly in adopting LERs and how to best support jobseekers looking to leverage digital badges.

Next Steps

The Manufacturing Readiness project owes its success entirely to the collaboration between the partners and our community partners and their participants. Each organization played a specific role that directly contributed to success and strengthened the work of other partners. Mission alignment, leadership buy-in, and clear communication were crucial and will continue to be as the partners consider what comes next for transitioning military service members and their families.

As LERs become more commonly accepted, new waves of innovation will quickly follow. In response, JFF will continue to advocate for safe and equitable practices in LER development while ensuring that sustainability and jobseeker needs are central to the process. The pieces linked below showcase JFF’s work in this space.

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