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How Workforce Boards Show the Way Toward the Future of Work

December 20, 2019

At a Glance

Future-focused workforce leaders excel in today’s rapidly changing world.

Josh Copus Senior Director
Practices & Centers

Preparing Americans for the future of work is the defining domestic issue of our time.

Automation and machine learning technologies outperform people in jobs that once paid family-supporting wages. Meanwhile, young people and adults must acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in work environments that may not yet exist. And on top of that, employers and workers are increasingly using digital platforms to find and assess talent.

These realities are creating new compacts between workers and businesses, and they are prompting workforce boards and other workforce development organizations to adapt and expand the roles they play in preparing people for future learning and work opportunities.

In response to the emergence of a new age of work and learning, JFF and the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) launched AWAKE (the Advanced Workforce Analytics and Knowledge Exchange). One of JFFLabs’ inaugural initiatives, AWAKE’s goal is to call attention to how workforce boards are evolving and to examine how technology and data have shaped those adaptations.

While K-12 and postsecondary educational institutions play critical roles in helping to prepare the next generation of workers for success, local workforce boards and American Job Centers (AJC) are finding innovative ways to respond to the new realities of today’s dynamic economy. In some cases, future-focused organizations within the workforce system have been able to stay ahead of the curve to meet the diverse needs of workers and emerging industries.

Workforce boards have been increasingly characterized by their unique identities, the niche labor market challenges they face, and the diverse and varying community organizations they partner with to advance regional workforce and economic development. They have also expanded their abilities to pursue a wider array of community-improvement goals and have established new and varied performance indicators to measure success.

Why Workforce Boards Can Lead in the Future of Work

The nation’s 550 local workforce boards and 2,500 AJCs are in a prime position to drive impact at scale. They comprise a locally-driven system that provides public- and private-sector leaders with opportunities to design programs and allocate funding to meet the specific needs of their regional labor markets, which can vary greatly from state to state and even from county to county. AJCs, which are managed by workforce boards, are accessible to all and provide critical access points for people in underserved communities. Thousands of Americans visit these centers to use digital tools for job searches, get career navigation advice, and participate in seminars to improve their skills.

These organizations are responsive, comprehensive, and effective sources of support for workers navigating complex challenges and preparing for the jobs of the future.

Across the country, future-focused workforce boards are adapting their operations, strategies, technologies, and investments to the changing world of work through strategic partnerships committed to making an impact in their communities. For some workforce boards, systemic, structural, and regulatory challenges prevent or limit their ability to adapt. If these challenges are resolved, these groups could provide greater economic stability for people and improved talent pipelines for businesses.

The Challenges and the Opportunities

We conducted interviews with 35 workforce leaders representing 26 workforce organizations in 16 states and identified successes and growth opportunities. This effort chronicled the cultural and technological evolution of workforce boards across the country, focusing on emerging operating models, shared values, alternative metrics of success, and the use of technology and data systems, both internally and in customer-facing applications.

What emerged were four core challenges and opportunities and corresponding behaviors that workforce systems can use to prepare for the future and help their organizations and their communities respond to change.

  1. Transformative technology at scale
  2. Data collection and analysis
  3. Expanding impact with partnerships and streamlined service
  4. Human-centered policies, procedures, and products

About Future-Focused Workforce Boards

In addition to clarifying the challenges and opportunities facing the workforce development system, AWAKE’s interviews with workforce board leaders revealed a clear set of four types of behaviors and characteristics that define some of the country’s most future-focused workforce organizations: They seek out strategic opportunities to expand their influence, collect and analyze vast amounts of data, adopt human-centered policies and programs, and embrace new technologies.

While strong individual leaders can play a role in determining how quickly and to what degree organizations adopt future-focused behaviors, top-down mandates are not required to make progress. New behaviors can take root organically within teams and across units.

Each of the behaviors below are codependent and tightly interwoven with no single behavior serving as a prerequisite for any other. Teams should consider how each behavior is exhibited within the context of their organization and use each as a guide as they plan for the future.

Behaviors and Characteristics


Opportunity-Oriented: Imagining What Could Be, Not Accepting What Is

Future-Focused Workforce Board Behaviors | Workforce boards that actively seek out new opportunities can increase their influence and expand the range of services they help make available to their communities. View the Full Brief Too…

December 20, 2019

Data-Obsessed: Analyzing, Understanding, and Preparing for Change

Future-Focused Workforce Board Behaviors | Workforce boards that collect and analyze a wealth of data are able to keep pace with and, in some cases, anticipate constantly changing regional dynamics. View the Full Brief It’s…

December 20, 2019

Human-Centered: Putting People Before Procedures

Future-Focused Workforce Board Behaviors | Workforce boards that design and implement human-centered systems and processes ensure that all people, regardless of their situation, have equitable access to services and opportunities. View the Full Brief Workforce…

December 20, 2019

Tech-Enabled: Using New Tools to Build Better Organizations

Future-Focused Workforce Board Behaviors | Future Workforce boards that embrace the use of new tools and technologies can improve service delivery and increase equity and access within their communities. View the Full Brief Technology drives…

December 20, 2019
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