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JFFLabs Announces Incubated Practices: Climate Innovation and Lifelong Learning

March 30, 2023

At a Glance

As two focus areas graduate into JFF, JFFLabs Executive Director Kristina Francis reflects on bold change and field transformation

Kristina Francis Executive Director, JFFLabs
Practices & Centers

Five years ago, Jobs for the Future (JFF) made a bold bet on the future of work and learning. We considered key questions posed by our partners across the field, the strength of our partnerships, and our own skills and expertise, and launched JFFLabs on a new and exciting premise: that the learn-and-work ecosystem was ready for powerful transformation that infused work and learning with technology, new models, and capital. A key part of this endeavor was utilizing JFFLabs to incubate ideas and approaches that could become core drivers for JFF in the future. The success of our inaugural focus, Advanced Workforce Analytics and Knowledge Exchange (AWAKE), provided data-driven tools to public workforce boards and proved that we had a unique role to play in bridging traditional systems with new-economy innovation to drive equitable economic advancement for all.

Today, we are proud to say that our bet continues to pay off as two more focus areas developed at JFFLabs, Employer Mobilization and Racial Economic Equity, exit our incubator to become full-scale practices and centers at JFF.

Now, we’re taking another bold step, assessing a landscape that is dramatically different from the one we entered in 2018. The pandemic changed work and learning; a national racial reckoning shifted our understanding of what equity truly means. Our trusted collaborators are asking new questions, including: How can we create resilient opportunities for the nation’s workers at a critical point in the climate crisis? When the cost of postsecondary education puts it out of reach for too many, how can we reimagine a world of learning that adapts to today’s needs? The search for answers will shape the years ahead at JFFLabs, as we incubate two new focus areas: Climate Innovation and Lifelong Learning.

Listening to Stakeholders and Lessons Learned

The exit of Racial Economic Equity and Employer Mobilization validates an important hypothesis: that there is an appetite for big changes in thinking and practice among corporations, philanthropists, and our other partners, and that JFF and JFFLabs are well-positioned to guide and support these new models as they take shape and scale. With that success in mind, we’ve been listening to our partners across the learn-and-work ecosystem as they predict what’s ahead.

In the education space, our collaborators are asking about the enrollment decline for both two- and four-year colleges, the changing narrative about what credentials have value, and how we might shift to a model that recognizes a wider range of skill sets. The climate crisis presents challenges across society, and corporations are struggling to prepare their organizations and the jobs within them to withstand the shifting landscape. Both areas are at a critical inflection point, and we believe the JFFLabs model can help advance many stakeholders to a better-informed, prepared strategy.

Lifelong Learning will pioneer a new approach to postsecondary education by curating and building a life-wide learning marketplace. By identifying emerging learning models, vetting new technologies designed to serve learners outside the two- and four-year college systems, and bringing lived experiences to the forefront, this practice will define and amplify the language, standards, and options that define the new marketplace.

Climate Innovation will inform, educate, and upskill individuals for climate-resilient jobs through innovation and collaboration across sectors, regions, new business models, and capital investments. We seek to mobilize key partners and funding to surface models and solutions that work and increase job opportunities for workers and learners that address climate risk and build toward a just transition. This focus is being driven through Climate-Resilient Employees for a Sustainable Tomorrow (CREST), a five-year, $25 million career preparation and reskilling initiative of the Ares Charitable Foundation that aims to close the gap between the demand for a skilled workforce for green jobs and the number of people prepared for these opportunities.

In both areas, we’ll build on the successes of our initial launches by applying our core framework to these new endeavors. Incubation is one of the three “I” approaches we take to supporting innovative transformation; the others are insights and investments. By offering data, support, and resources to early-stage solutions, we encourage risk-taking and innovative problem-solving across the learn and work ecosystem.

Insights: We identify rapid and emerging trends about innovations and solutions so that we can reach audiences with stories of economic success across demographics.

Incubation: We provide strategy, piloting, and support to innovators, entrepreneurs, and businesses so they can test market fit and the efficacy of their products and solutions.

Investment: We invest in and support entrepreneurs so that they can scale solutions that will help millions of people achieve equitable economic advancement.

Our focus will include fostering problem-solving skills that embody the spirit of the JFF and JFFLabs partnership, characterized by curiosity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

These new incubation areas are complemented and supported by other key work across JFF, including JFF Ventures, our impact investment arm focused on early-stage solutions, and Education Standards Quality Outcomes (EQOS), which establishes outcomes-based vetting for the crowded credential marketplace. We anticipate exploring whether incubated practices can become standalone operations or should remain housed within JFF, as we offer a supported place to test and scale new initiatives.

An Eye on the Future of Work

Potential future JFFLabs focus areas will allow us to explore new hypotheses, engage futurists, build new partnerships with entities working to disrupt traditional incumbents, and activate our JFF networks to make markets where innovations and models can generate powerful social impact. We will continue to scan the market, identify innovations and trends, and deepen our understanding of what it takes to implement leading-edge technology at scale.

These past few years have taught us that there is so much we don’t know, and can’t predict, about the years ahead. That uncertainty and world of possibility are what excite and drive the team at JFFLabs. We strive to be the telescope looking 5, 15, or even 50 years ahead, helping to identify the moments when trends become movements, and offering innovators a platform and structure to create solutions even before we need them.

In 2020, when the need for innovative, bold work around Employer Mobilization and Racial Economic Equity became clear, our teams were ready to assess our knowledge, listen to our partners, and take decisive action to help shape a more equitable future of work and learning. We are proud of their work, and excited to take on the new challenges of Climate Innovation and Lifelong Learning to better serve learners and workers in their drive for equitable economic advancement.

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