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

December 20, 2019

At a Glance

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.

Josh Copus Senior Director
Practices & Centers
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Too often, workforce development boards place constraints on themselves based on the status quo, resource limitations, lack of capacity, and other hurdles. By burdening themselves with such barriers, which they may perceive to be insurmountable, workforce organizations may become incapable of reaching their potential as community leaders and drivers of innovation that power regional growth and development. Without the ability to open themselves up to new opportunities by envisioning what could be rather than accepting what is, workforce boards may not make the most of their capacity to be economic engines within their communities.

An opportunity-oriented approach to providing services is one of four future-focused behaviors identified by AWAKE. These behaviors were vetted by a diverse group of workforce professionals from across the country to ensure they are reflective of the core characteristics, priorities, and commitments needed to prepare and transform America’s workforce system to ensure that all workers and learners succeed.

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

Future-focused workforce boards have expansive visions of what they can achieve, and they pursue the resources and talent necessary to meet ambitious goals. They are aware of strategic opportunities to expand their influence at all levels across a diverse set of stakeholders.


Misaligned funding and accountability measures make it challenging for partners to streamline delivery of services and compare performance metrics in a meaningful way.


The workforce system is much more than a collection of programs supported by federal and state funds. In the past, workforce boards might have been solely defined by public funding streams and federal accountability measures. Today, they are not. Workforce boards are pursuing more ambitious goals that seek to redefine how people interact with the workforce system. They’re harnessing the complementary goals of community stakeholders, creating new financing mechanisms, and working with partners in the private sector, particularly businesses that are developing new job and employment technologies.


Future-focused workforce boards can inspire organizations in their communities and instill confidence in those willing to change. The opportunity to fail is a privilege rarely afforded to public systems, but there is no reward without risk. Funders should place flexible bets on workforce boards that have expansive visions by supporting them when they fail and amplifying their innovations when they succeed. Private investors back capacity and technology infrastructure, and they double down on proven and trusted leaders. Public-sector investment should be approached in the same way.

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Opportunity-oriented leaders and organizations are helping to usher in a new era of service delivery and operations at workforce boards and AJCs across the country. They may not have all of the answers as to how the U.S. workforce system must evolve and transform in order to effectively support all types of workers and learners in the new economy, but they are finding creative ways to experiment, fail forward, and engage in disruptive conversations about how the workforce system can keep up with the pace of change.

“The workforce board has always been an organization that strives for more than just WIOA funds, and there is a long-held expectation that the board is a community-based asset and is expected to behave as such.”

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