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Tech-Enabled Workforce Boards Drive Innovation in Their Communities

November 9, 2021

At A Glance

In this story, we explore how the Future of Work Grand Challenge reversed the dynamic of workforce boards playing catch-up and reacting to technological changes by creating an opportunity, in the midst of a generational digital transformation, for boards to lead stakeholders in their regions in delivering cutting-edge tech-enabled job training.


The emergence of new industries and occupations has spurred the creation of new training models and the rise of innovative new training providers who embrace the latest approaches. And across all sectors of the economy, companies are modernizing their IT systems, requiring jobseekers to learn new skills in order to qualify for the positions employers are trying to fill. At the same time, however, workforce boards—whose mission is to help displaced workers acquire skills that are in demand in their local labor markets—have often lagged behind, watching the technological advances and the evolution of training models from the sidelines. Unable to change course quickly, they react to developments well after they have taken hold.

To support the public workforce system during this time of change, JFF, New Profit, XPRIZE, and MIT Solve tapped six leading workforce boards from across the country to participate in the Future of Work Grand Challenge, a unique competition in which the workforce boards partner with companies that offer tech-driven next-gen job training platforms and programs to create innovative ways to help displaced workers build skills that are in demand in today’s economy. The Grand Challenge launched in early 2020, when individuals, organizations, and society as a whole were trying to adapt to a world where digital tools suddenly played a bigger role in work and learning than they ever had before.

In this story, we explore how the Future of Work Grand Challenge reversed the dynamic of workforce boards playing catch-up and reacting to technological changes by creating an opportunity, in the midst of a generational digital transformation, for boards to lead stakeholders in their regions in delivering cutting-edge tech-enabled job training. Participating workforce boards thrived in this leadership role, demonstrating a tech-enabled approaches to both jobseeker training and organizational capacity-building. Their investments in those efforts will keep them at the forefront of innovation in their communities for years to come.

How Workforce Boards Show the Way to the Future of Work
JFF is supporting workforce boards and partner organizations to explore new opportunities in recruiting, training, and capacity-building. This article is one in a series featuring partner impact stories. Through separate features set to be released by JFF, we examine how these six workforce boards have approached the Challenge through the lens of future-focused behaviors.
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The Opportunity

Two workforce boards became innovators in their regions by partnering with providers of technology-based job training solutions to meet employer demand.

The participating workforce boards already had experience providing virtual training to clients before they entered the Future of Work Grand Challenge. However, the state-of-the-art digital training tools and platforms they got from their partners enabled them to offer learners exciting new training opportunities. And as they used the technologies more widely, they were able to continually find new ways to use them to help jobseekers. The improvements could be attributed not only to the advanced capabilities of the technologies themselves, but also to the fact that workforce board staff learned a lot about the tools while field-testing them and put their newfound skills and expertise to use devising innovations for future programs.

Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas worked with Team VITAL—a partnership of Colaberry, a company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) technology to help employers train staff to use data science tools, and Geechi, a maker of training systems that use virtual reality (VR) to simulate workplace scenarios—to develop a medical device sterilization training program for lab technicians and mock interview workshops for all jobseekers. Team VITAL developed a platform that enables learners to use Oculus VR headsets to take part in training sessions in simulated environments. Among other things, the AI-enabled software provided jobseekers with real-time feedback about their body language and speech patterns during mock job interviews.

MassHire Central Massachusetts was paired with HireMee, an India-based developer of a training platform that uses AI to customize instructional modules to jobseekers’ needs. The Worcester, Massachusetts-based workforce board also paired with ChargerHelp, a company that trains and hires technicians to maintain electric vehicle charging stations using proprietary diagnostic software.

The Behavior In Action

Professional development for frontline workforce board employees was critical to successful deployment of new training technologies.

Workforce board employees participating in the Grand Challenge eagerly engaged in training to learn to use the new technologies they were helping to deploy. Frontline staff at Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas (WFSDallas), for example, were able to learn about the latest in VR training tools from their partners at Team VITAL. To further prepare staff to use VR technologies to deliver for training to jobseekers, WFSDallas sought guidance from the Walmart Foundation, with which it has a strong relationship. WFSDallas and Team VITAL worked with Walmart’s employee training team, which has been using VR-aided training for years. Based on Walmart’s recommendations, WFSDallas and Team VITAL set up VR “labs” for staff training in four workforce centers.

It was amazing being able to learn from the Fortune No. 1 company and the largest employer in the world, which was already using VR to train store associates.

Lynn Hoffman, Senior Innovation Strategist, Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas

The Obstacles

Challenges related to access and user experience were the most prominent barriers to delivering high-quality training at scale in virtual environments.

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the fact that the digital divide is a major barrier to economic mobility. This was evident during the Grand Challenge as well. Many jobseekers did not have easy access to the tools and technologies necessary for remote learning, including computers, smartphones, and reliable high-speed internet service. However, workforce boards were able to leverage existing partnerships and funding streams to mitigate these barriers for learners. Masshire, for example, was able to tap into the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development’s Mass Internet Connect program to provide free Chromebooks and Wi-Fi hotspots to jobseekers.

Technical support issues can occur even with the most user-friendly technologies. Some of MassHire’s jobseekers were unfamiliar with virtual learning environments, and they turned to MassHire, a trusted resource in the community, for support when they had difficulty logging in to and navigating HireMee’s training platform. However, when MassHire and its partners were planning the pilot, they hadn’t considered the possibility that the workforce board would receive as many requests for support as it did. The support requests initially placed a significant burden on MassHire, but staff were eventually able to provide the support users needed as they became more familiar with the platform and its functionality.

The emergence of new job training technologies affects not just jobseekers, but employers as well. In order to maintain a highly-skilled, competitive workforce, companies and talent managers must stay abreast of changes in the training models. In Dallas, health care employers were skeptical of VR-based training and expressed concern that the technicians enrolled in the new WFSDallas device sterilization training program would not be participating in in-person clinical classes. To help them overcome their concerns, Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas hosted an employer roundtable to demonstrate VITAL’s VR training technology to hiring managers. The event succeeded in alleviating apprehensions about hiring graduates of the program.

Digital training technologies can help workforce boards deliver low-cost, high-quality training at scale. But they are not silver bullets. As shown through the Future of Work Grand Challenge, successful deployment of cutting-edge, digital tools requires meaningful engagement among multiple stakeholders, knowledgeable users with access to the equipment and tools necessary to operate the technology, and professional development and training for those implementing the solutions. As the depth and breadth of technologies grows, and as the number of training providers who use the latest tools continues to increase, future-focused workforce boards must find ways to effectively manage their portfolios of offerings while ensuring that their frontline staff and partners remain aware of how these technologies are affecting the labor market.

About the Future of Work Grand Challenge

JFF, New Profit, XPRIZE, and MIT Solve are working together alongside six leading workforce partners in the Future of Work Grand Challenge, a set of equity-focused competitions to generate bold ideas and innovative new training approaches to help displaced workers rapidly build new skills and move into high-wage careers. This joint effort is an important step toward modernizing the American workforce system to better adapt to the changing ways Americans learn, work, and earn in the post-pandemic environment. This is one article in a series featuring partner impact stories.

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