JFF’s Workforce Communities of Action: Transforming Ideas Into Action

Across the country, local economies are feeling the impacts of supply chain shortages, inflation, labor market fluctuations, the ongoing pandemic, continued racial injustice, and climate change. As workforce development boards and American Job Centers look to support their communities’ efforts to rebound and recover, they face a variety of complex challenges—predominantly the challenge of being constrained by policies and funding mechanisms that have failed to keep pace with evolving worker, learner, and market needs. Jobs for the Future (JFF) is asking organizations to bring their expansive vision and out-of-the-box thinking to life through a unique initiative whose goal is to develop community-centered and equity-driven solutions to address some of the nation’s most pervasive workforce challenges.


JFF, with support from JPMorgan Chase Foundation, is offering up to 20 state or local workforce development boards across the country an opportunity to learn how they can take a unique approach to making meaningful, lasting change in their communities by devising innovative solutions to challenges that impact regional economies. The workforce boards selected to take part in this experience will be known as Workforce Communities of Action. They will engage in a strategically designed and facilitated process for collaboratively thinking about and solving problems through a variety of critical lenses.

The Workforce Communities of Action model aims to strengthen workforce professionals’ ability to identify and solve complex urgent issues. With support from CivicMakers—a strategic consultancy offering community-driven solution design and delivery services—along with JFF and a team of nationally recognized workforce advisors, participants will thoroughly explore and communicate their problems in a structured environment and then identify viable action plans that are tied to measurable impacts defined with their community partners.

At the end of this engagement, four communities will be selected to receive $10,000 in seed funding and will continue to work closely with JFF and its team of advisors to develop compelling proposals for innovative, place-based solutions that can be pitched to potential funders. Leveraging our national network, JFF will support efforts to identify and connect community members to potential funders and grant opportunities with the goal of raising funds to support concept implementation by the summer of 2024.

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The Opportunity at a Glance

Application Process

All applications must be submitted using the online submission tool. Applicants are highly encouraged to review and consider all application guidance materials before submitting an application. These materials can also be found on the first page of the online application form.

Application Deadline

Applications must be submitted electronically by 11:59 p.m. ET, May 5, 2023.

Informational Office Hours and Q&A Session

When: Monday, April 24 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Where: Watch the recording here, and access the slide deck here.

What: Join our team for a 60-minute office hours-style informational session. Read the FAQs here.

Eligible Applicants

  • Local workforce development boards
  • State workforce development boards
  • U.S. Territories and Tribal workforce entities

Required Partners

While partner organizations will not be required to participate in the design and discovery session activities, it is expected that participating communities will identify, as part of their application, specific partners they will be collaborating with to refine their problem statements and contribute to proposed action plans.

Benefits of Participation

Participants in the Workforce Communities of Action initiative will . . .

  • Have an opportunity to engage in collaborative problem-solving and knowledge-sharing with other future-focused workforce boards across the country
  • Gain access to a no-cost professional development opportunity for workforce board leaders and staff members
  • Gain insights and learn about tools for approaching collaborative problem-solving utilizing human-centered design and equity principles
  • Work closely with JFF and nationally recognized advisors to address a high-priority, complex problem in their region
  • Use this opportunity to inform and support other broad-scale initiatives such as the Good Jobs Challenge or Job Quality Academy
  • Leverage JFF’s funding expertise and relationships to potentially identify a funder for a pilot concept to address a regional need

Activities and Timeline

The Workforce Communities of Action initiative will unfold in three phases:

Phase 1: Community Selection. April - May 2023

State and local workforce boards from across the country will be invited to apply in April. Within the application form, applicants will be asked to identify and describe a critical challenge facing their workforce area or state. The challenge should align with at least one of JFF’s four future-focused behaviors:

These four behaviors have helped shape JFF’s Workforce Transformation Strategy. Through extensive research conducted from 2018 to 2020, these behaviors were found to be shared across many of the nation’s leading workforce development boards. To support the continued expansion of these behaviors across the workforce system, JFF encourages applicants to read more about each behavior to learn why they are critical to the growth and impact of workforce organizations and how high-performing workforce boards are leading the field in each of these areas.

Though we recognize that identifying solutions to challenges may require communities to focus on more than one of these behaviors, applicants will be asked to carefully examine their problem and select which behavior they feel would most effectively support development of a viable action plan. No behavior will be weighed more heavily than any other during the application review process. More advice about how to select the most appropriate behavior is provided within the application guidance materials and within the online application form.

A team at JFF will review all submissions and select up to 20 communities from across the four behavior areas to advance to the next phase: Ideation.

The 20 selected communities are expected to be announced no later than May 26, 2023.

Phase 2: Ideation. June to September 2023

Over the course of four months, selected workforce boards will spend roughly 16 hours participating in a series of virtual discovery and design sessions with their peers. Each participant's experience will be thoughtfully curated by JFF and CivicMakers based on information submitted through the application process to ensure a valuable and productive experience for all selected organizations.

Participants will closely analyze their challenge and develop a detailed problem statement that examines the “who,” “what,” and “why,” of their challenge and provides supporting evidence, discusses its potential impact, and introduces a hypothesis and a proposed plan to test this hypothesis. These questions will be explored through a focused and collaborative process facilitated by CivicMakers. Along the way, teams will have the opportunity to learn from consultants and advisors who can lend insight to design best practices, implementation models, and cutting-edge approaches being explored across the country. These experts will be carefully selected by JFF based on alignment of their knowledge and background to the needs of participating communities.

This process is intended to provide workforce professionals with the mindset, strategies, processes, and tools needed to thoughtfully and thoroughly examine localized issues while applying an equity lens and human-centered design principles.

At the close of the design and discovery sessions, JFF and our team of workforce advisors will identify four communities to receive $10,000 to advance their action plans from concept to proposal as part of Phase 3: Activation.

Teams selected for the Activation phase will have successfully developed an action plan that demonstrates the following:

  • A creative, bold, and equitable approach to identifying or addressing the participant's challenge
  • Identifies key stakeholders and critical partners necessary to further investigating or addressing the challenge and the roles these stakeholder and partners must play
  • A clear plan for engaging with and centering the community in future investigative or implementation activities.
  • Identifies necessary resources, assets, and capacities needed for taking the next step in investigating or addressing the challenge
  • A clear set of goals objectives for the next stage of the participant's work

Phase 3: Activation. October to December 2023

Four selected communities will receive $10,000 in seed funding and will work closely with JFF and workforce advisors to continue identifying critical next steps that lead to action and change. Next steps may include additional required research, capacity building, planning, or in some cases, implementation of a fully developed concept proposal.

Prior to the conclusion of the project period, JFF will work with finalists to identify a list of potential philanthropic funders that may be interested in supporting the project. It is JFF’s hope that the $10,000 in seed funding will be used to support ongoing efforts to secure additional funding needed to implement new ideas, innovative approaches, and bold ideas—though specific plans for taking those steps won’t be a requirement for receiving the seed funding.


For questions about this opportunity or how to apply, please contact Genna Petrolla. To learn more about JFF’s work to create a future-focused public workforce system, please visit Co-Creating a Future-Focused Workforce System on JFF.org.