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Feb 22, 2012

A Code For America Program for Workforce Development? (Idea #1*)

Code for America

Hackers for Workforce Development?
If you've been here before, you know how much we love Code For America. We featured the organization in our WEadership Guide, blogged about it, and even had the fortunate opportunity to interview founder Jennifer Pahlka. For us, Code for America is not just a wildly inventive non-profit organization, it is an example of a new way of meeting community needs, in partnership with government. Code for America connects technologists with cities to solve problems and builds networks that aim to reinvent government for our modern age.

So what would a Code for America Workforce initiative look like? What could we do if we recruited top-notch Code for America fellows (young people who spend time partnering on technology-based solutions to critical problems) and sicked them on workforce issues? Labor exchange, career navigation, under-employment, career advancement, internships...what if?

It turns out this is not so far-fetched. Code For America fellows worked with the Department of Labor, Veterans services, and the White House on the Joining Forces initiative to help returning veterans transition to new jobs and careers after their service.  

So what else could we do here?

Help us find out. Create a Code for America program for workforce development.

* This is part of a series of entirely subjective posts intended to inspire greatness among applicants to the Workforce Innovation Fund. The opinions and perspectives expressed here are not those of Social Policy Research, the US Department of Labor (USDOL) or anyone other than the author. Please steal the ideas you find most promising.

 

 

 

Post
Feb 18, 2012

Institute for Emerging Issues, Gen Z & Why Twitter Can Be So Great...

A couple of weeks ago, we did a session on social media at Social Policy Research (SPR). It was less about the specific tools and how to use them and more about the potential value/impact. We talked about the idea of ambient awareness*—how peripheral knowledge of what's happening in your networks can expose new opportunities. So, I thought I'd share this story with colleagues I know are interested in creating better economic opportunity for young people—and with anyone else who's interested.

Serendipity
I regularly tweet with @sandymaxey (Ashville, NC—I am in Portland, Oregon). We've never met, but I know we share many interests and I rely on her insight, energy and smarts (communicated largely via Twitter) in my daily work.

So when I saw this tweet:

I had to investigate #NCGenz. Turns out they were livestreaming what looked like a fantastic event here.

The NC Institute for Emerging Issues (and do I ever love the concept of a dedicated resource for looking at how new social, economic, and cultural trends might impact a community) has idenitfied the care and feeding of Gen Z (young people born between 1990 and 2002) as an issue worthy of some serious public engagement. 

Within 5 minutes of receiving Sandy's tweet, I had learned about the event, seen some of the livestream (in which people who were Gen Z were engaged), and found the following resources:

I then signed up for the newsletter, liked IEI on Facebook, and snipped IEI to my "thought leaders" collection.

How to Share?
But how do I share this information with colleagues? Do I email the think (which link?) to colleagues (which ones)? Do I post the link (which link) on Facebook? My page? SPR's page? Do I tweet? 

I wasn't sure the colleagues I thought might most appreciate the event and links would even see them.

So, I drafted this post to explain.

And I'll post it to Facebook.

Maybe others will benefit from it too.

And if any of you reacts with something close to "Wow!", stop for a second and just feel your reaction—that "I-can't-wait-to-tell-the-next-person-I-see-how-cool-this-is" feeling. Got it? Using social media makes me feel like that nearly every day.

#theworldisyouroyster

*Thanks to @caseorganic, who first turned me on to this most useful construct.

Post
Jan 18, 2012

#SOPA, Workforce, and Our Future

We loved this explanation of the relationship between innovation and #SOPA - and the example Brad Burnham uses to illustrate his point? It's a workforce example. Thank you Brad Burnham, Big Think, and @danielhonan.

 

 

Post
Jan 7, 2012

DJs, WEadership, and What Makes the MIT Media Lab Work

We came across this video in Big Think

We were so pleased to hear Joi Ito, Executive Director of the MIT Media Lab, communicating the importance of adopting a wide-angle point of view (WEadership practice #1) and facilitating connections between people (WEadership practice #2).

We liked the same quote author Meagan Erickson did:

“The world is full of expertise,” says Joi Ito, “What it lacks is agility and context.”

 

Thanks to Joi Ito for his brilliance and humility and to Big Think for sharing it.

 

 

Post
Oct 30, 2011

WEadership Practice #5: Add Unique Value

This post originally appeared on LeadChange. It is the sixth in a seven-part series summarizing the findings of a one-year study of workforce leadership in which we identified six practices next-generation leaders are using, comprising a new model of leadership we call WEadership in a nod to its collaborative nature.

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What business are you in?

It’s rarely as simple a question as it seems. Remember the vendors who thought they were in the ice business but were eclipsed by Frigidaire?

Workforce leaders in government agencies, nonprofit organizations or private-sector firms struggle with this question every day as they seek to grow jobs and build prosperity in their communities.

What does it mean to work on “jobs?”

Part of the reason the jobs agenda is so difficult to solve is that it’s not one problem. Most communities face some combination of the following:

  • Too few jobs (especially those offering health insurance and family-sustaining wages)
  • Skills gaps among applicants competing for good jobs that do exist and those in emerging industries
  • Young workers having difficulty making the leap from job to career (or from school to job)
  • Older experienced workers who cannot afford to retire or simply want to remain engaged but in different roles than they play today
  • Labor markets that lack transparency (e.g., applicants submit hundreds of resumes into “black holes“)
  • Persistent poverty, especially among communities of color, which limits access to job
    opportunities and to the social networks that help people advance
  • Overcrowded and underfunded public schools and institutions of higher education struggle to cultivate the talents of all of their students
  • Ongoing economic shocks—not just unanticipated layoffs, but also natural and weather-related disasters of which there have been 83 in 2011 (a record high in any calendar year)

 These challenges are not for the faint of heart, and cannot be solved by a single leader, organization or sector. But they are among the defining challenges of our day. And courageous leaders in public, private, non-profit, and civic sectors all over the country are quietly stepping forward to tackle them—increasingly, in partnership with one another.

How do effective leaders insure they are making a difference?

The 519 leaders who participated in our study—ranging from mayors and state legislators
to nonprofit and corporate executives—offered the following lessons:

  1. Do work that matters. There are a plethora of strategies and approaches for cultivating prosperous families, firms, and communities. And yet, many struggle. If the status quo is not working, effective workforce leaders champion change. They actively seek to understand which problems matter most in their communities and focus on solutions that hold the greatest promise.
  2. Do work you do well or could learn to do well.
    There is much work to do, but effective workforce leaders are choosy. They resist the temptation to “do it all” and find ways to apply their individual and organizational strengths while leveraging the contributions of others.
  3. Measure what matters most (and share credit for success). Measuring the impact of community change efforts in complex and difficult, but effective leaders invest measurement systems that tell them something about impact, even if imperfectly and even if funders don’t require it.

These leaders we engaged assess their assets relative to community needs not once, but over and over again. The specific value they bring changes with time and circumstances but their contributions remain special and significant.

Are you doing work that really matters? How do you know?

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Kristin Wolff and Vinz Koller, of Social Policy Research Associates, authored the WEadership Guide (August 2011), the result of a one-year US Department of Labor study of leadership in the field of public policy concerned with work and learning. They were thrilled at the opportunity to link their professional pursuits (public policy) with their personal commitments to positive social change and innovation, and look to increase, accelerate, and intensify these connections within the field of workforce in the coming months.
The entire project is documented at EnhacingWorkforceLeadership.org. Follow it (and them) at @WFLeadership, @kristinwolff, @kollerv.

Post
Oct 24, 2011

WEadership Practice #4: Encourage Experimentation (and, of course, experiment yourself)

This post originally appeared on LeadChange. It is the fourth in a seven-part series summarizing the findings of a one-year study of workforce leadership in which we identified six practices next-generation leaders are using, comprising a new model of leadership we call WEadership in a nod to its collaborative nature.

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Photo credit: Flickr frienc eleaf

The Speed of Life

For today’s leaders, the speed and intensity of change in the workplace is among the most significant challenges they face.

Yesterday’s successful approaches may not meet the needs of tomorrow’s customers, employees, or communities. As change occurs, experimentation plays an important role in helping leaders identify new strategies and approaches better suited to emerging demands.

New Ideas Needed

Many leaders know they need new ideas and new ideas need testing.

We found that despite the widespread desire to experiment among leaders and organizations participating in our study, many factors work against trying anything new: risk-averse cultures, resource constraints, incentive systems that favor the status quo or motivate internal competition over collaboration, even just plain inertia.

But these constraints can be managed and appropriate incentives–from public recognition to financial rewards–can support experimentation and create a desirable balance between tried and true methods and innovation approaches.

5 Ways Leaders Can Create Space (and Support) for Experimentation

  1. Dedicate staff time and resources to exploring, integrating, and testing new ideas. There are an infinite number of ways this can be structured, but dedicating resources is important because it signals a commitment to innovation.
  2. Subject a few existing programs, initiatives, processes, services, or products to close scrutiny to identify needed changes that promise to improve outcomes or increase impact. Make one change. Measure the impact. Repeat.
  3. Manage risk openly. This means talking about failure–and owning it collectively. It also means addressing the risk of not trying new things.
  4. Document. Document. Document. With every experiment (or near experiment), there is intelligence gathered beyond the narrow set of data associated with a particular change. Why was a given experiment conceived? What was the theory of change in pursuing it? By making a habit out of asking (and answering) these critical questions, leaders
    can create opportunities to learn at all levels – this helps make everyone smarter.
  5. Opt for boldness (at least sometimes). It’s easy to get stuck in a series of new small ideas. These are important, but they also tend to be incremental. Leaders can also choose big bold disruptive ideas. They are higher risk, but extremely motivating. (Who doesn’t want to change the world?)

What are you waiting for?

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Kristin Wolff and Vinz Koller, of Social Policy Research Associates, authored the WEadership Guide (August 2011), the result of a one-year US Department of Labor study of leadership in the field of public policy concerned with work and learning. They were thrilled at the opportunity to link their professional pursuits (public policy) with their personal commitments to positive social change and innovation, and look to increase, accelerate, and intensify these connections within the field of workforce in the coming months.
The entire project is documented at EnhacingWorkforceLeadership.org. Follow it (and them) at @WFLeadership, @kristinwolff, @kollerv.

Post
Oct 14, 2011

WEadership Practice #3: Embrace Openness

This post originally appeared on LeadChange. It is the third in a seven-part series summarizing the findings of a one-year study of workforce leadership in which we identified six practices next-generation leaders are using, comprising a new model of leadership we call WEadership in a nod to its collaborative nature.

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WEadership and the Crowd

The idea that leaders “control” the people, information, and resources within their organizations is no longer plausible if it ever was. Today people use social technologies to connect, share, and collaborate with peers and colleagues who can help them get things done, regardless of position or organizational affiliation.

This shift has created new demands for “transparency” on the part of organizations in public, private, and non-profit sectors alike. Employees, customers, shareholders, citizens, doners, etc. increasingly, all of them want to make the businesses of doing business more transparent, more visible, and ultimately, more accountable.

Leaders can adapt to these changes by opening up the way they listen, share, and engage with employees, customers, and communities to solve important problems.

Openness in the Organization

Many of the 519 leaders in our study reported that the most important thing leaders can do to open up their organizations is listen. It seems simple, but in a media-saturated environment in which customers tweet, employees blog, and people of all kinds have conversations that can be shared with millions in minutes, listening has become complicated. But listening is critical because conversations about your issues are talking place, with or without you. The insights freely available to good listeners can make a business, while ignoring them can make a business irrelevant.

Sharing, too, has taken new forms. Open leaders are discovering the difference between broadcasting and sharing, and finding the latter a more effective approach to building brands, delivering services, and delighting customers. These leaders are:

  • Using social media to host conversations
  • Making complex data accessible, beautiful, and easy to understand
  • Sharing “drafts” of planned changes to products, services, policies,and business models so they can be improved (rather than rolling out a finished product that meets yesterday’s need).

All of these practices speak to a more iterative approach to problem solving and one that involves more than the experts.

Collaborative Networks Within and Across Organizations

The “org chart” may reflect where people in an organization sit, but rarely how they get their work done or the relative value of their contributions to the enterprise. This is more true today, as employees maintain extensive social networks outside of their organizations. Open leaders understand this. They find ways to invite broad participation in problem-solving within and outside of their organizations. For example, leaders in our study reported experimenting with:

  • Social networks that made the knowledge and expertise of individual employees known to everyone;
  • Crowdsourcing platforms that invite people to share ideas, knowledge, and opinions at significant scale; and
  • Convening partners (who might also be competitors) to develop collaborative solutions to common problems;

Sharing Leadership

Open leaders invite others to share leadership responsibility. They understand that leadership is a role, not a title, and that leadership can come from any corner of any organization or community, not just the management tier. For traditional leaders, this is a significant change. But it also represents a tremendous opportunity to engage more people in more meaningful work toward more significant ends.

Leaders, their organizations, their boards, and their communities will all have to find the particular combination of open leadership practices that is right for them.

Openness is a matter of degree, but it is also inevitable.

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Kristin Wolff and Vinz Koller, of Social Policy Research Associates, authored the WEadership Guide (August 2011), the result of a one-year US Department of Labor study of leadership in the field of public policy concerned with work and learning. They were thrilled at the opportunity to link their professional pursuits (public policy) with their personal commitments to positive social change and innovation, and look to increase, accelerate, and intensify these connections within the field of workforce in the coming months. The entire project is documented at EnhacingWorkforceLeadership.org. Follow it at @WFLeadership.

Post
Oct 10, 2011

WEadership Practice #2: Build Diverse Networks

This post originally appeared on LeadChange. It is the third in a seven-part series summarizing the findings of a one-year study of workforce leadership in which we identified six practices next-generation leaders are using, comprising a new model of leadership we call WEadership in a nod to its collaborative nature.

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“We can now keep what used to be weak links [...] within our grasp, and build on them. This is a sea change affecting all industries and it won’t go away. [Leaders] need to learn to leverage this powerful asset.”
– Kim, Program Director (IA)

Networks. They are everywhere. They link our devices. They link us to one another. That leaders need to build diverse networks almost goes without saying. But we’ll say it anyway because it’s that important, it’s never complete, and because actually doing it is not always so easy.

Let’s unpack the meaning of the practice, word by word.

Build.

First, “build.” Not just network, build networks. Our research demonstrated that effective leaders seek out people from whom they can learn, personally and professionally. They invest time and do at least as much giving as getting, building relationships within and outside of their professional fields or disciplines, and connecting
others in the process (this practice is also called Network Weaving).
Effective leaders don’t stop at meeting new people, they follow-up with action—by sharing information, collaborating on small projects, or engaging people in more formal ways.

Diverse.

Effective leaders take diversity seriously. They seek out diverse talent, perspectives, and opinions. They engage racial, cultural, and sexual minorities in meaningful ways, inviting them into decision-making processes not just consulting with them.

One area of diversity with which the leaders we consulted struggled was experiential diversity—or what many called “rank.” There is constant pressure on senior leaders to interact with similarly ranking people, especially in formal settings, even as these leaders know they also need the insight and engagement of junior colleagues in their organizations and communities. Importantly, leader-to-leader engagements often compromise others kinds of diversity, since there are still fewer women and people of color in the top tiers of many industries and organizations.

Effective leaders find ways to engage people of different rank and tenure meaningfully in shared activities. Here are two simple practices our leaders reported using:

  • Inviting junior staff or community members to Board meetings, not as note-takers or errand-runners, but as contributors. And not in that strained, obligatory sort of way that asks one person to speak for his or her generation, but in a way that normalizes such contributions and creates an expectation of learning from them. Engaging across generations with purpose, sincerity, and respect invites other senior leaders to engage with their junior colleagues in similar ways.
  • Creating new mechanisms for engagement (or redesigning old ones)—social media platforms or cross-generational workgroups, for example. This strategy not only opens communication channels acrossgroups, but helps make visible the formal and informal knowledge and skill sets within whole organizations or networks so that everyone can tap into them more effectively.

Creating new ways for people of different ages to work together—and experience a shared sense of accomplishment—is one of the best ways to overcome biases that inhibit collaboration among colleagues from
different generations.

Networks.

Networks are not just “groups” or “teams,” they are people connected to one another in a wide variety of ways. They have specific structures which lend themselves to particular outcomes. Technology—including social media—has helped us visualize networks and spawned accessible applied methodologies for growing and improving them. Effective leaders—especially those in public interest or policy fields where relationships drive change—are learning how to shift from strategies rooted in organizations to more flexible network-based change models: a competitor in one line of business might be a collaborator in another; the most junior staff might be the lead on an important project because he or she maintains a relationship with a client or partner.

Network approaches can disrupt traditional hierarchies,creating tensions between colleagues of different rank or straining relations between traditional and new partners, but they can also extend the reach of leaders and their organizations, and improve leaders’ ability to tap into needed resources.

Diverse networks can help leaders improve what they already do, and link to new ideas and fields of practices so they can better adapt to change.

Bibliography (containing many resources on leadership and networks)

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Kristin Wolff and Vinz Koller, of Social Policy Research Associates, authored the WEadership Guide (August 2011), the result of a one-year US Department of Labor study of leadership in the field of public policy concerned with work and learning. They were thrilled at the opportunity to link their professional pursuits (public policy) with their personal commitments to positive social change and innovation, and look to increase, accelerate, and intensify these connections within the field of workforce in the coming months.
The entire project is documented at EnhacingWorkforceLeadership.org. Follow it at @WFLeadership.

Post
Oct 1, 2011

Leading our way out of the Recession: A 21st Century WPA?

This post, authored by Kristin Wolff and Vinz Koller, was originally published at Harvard's Ash Center Social Innovation Project on September 28, 2011

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“As of 2008, the war for good jobs has trumped all other
leadership activities […] The lack of good jobs will become the root
cause of almost all world problems that America and other countries will
face.” –Jim Clifton, Gallup Management Journal (September 2011)

Our economy is in trouble. Today, over 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and over 46 million are in poverty. Jobs and economic security are the single most important issues on the minds of people across generations, geography, and political parties.

The last time we faced an economic crisis of this magnitude was during the Great Depression. At that time, the federal government stepped in. Between 1935 and 1943, the Works Progress Administration (WPA, later renamed the Works Projects Administration) provided almost 8 million jobs.

But today’s labor market is different than that of the 1930s, and its challenges more complex. Moreover, the near crisis brought on by the administrative task of raising the debt ceiling last month suggests that bold, quick, and effective responses from our nation’s capitol are not likely.

Clearly, we need new solutions.

What’s the Problem?

Part of the reason the jobs problem is so difficult to solve is that it’s not one problem.
The national unemployment rate dominates headlines, but labor markets generally follow economies—they are regional, not national. For example, last month, the metro region of El Centro, California recorded an unemployment rate of 30.8%, while Bismark, North Dakota’s was 3.0%.

Communities face competing priorities—not just between “the jobs agenda” and other priorities (public safety and emergency response, for example), but also within the jobs agenda itself.

  • Should communities focus on supporting growing industries? Their largest industries? The industries with the largest share of exports? Those that promise to keep jobs local?
  • Young people are having difficulty getting on a career path, older workers can’t afford to retire, and Gen X is sandwiched between, often supporting children, parents or both. How do community leaders set priorities in this context?
  • Would tackling social ills (e.g., helping adults learn to read) yield returns? Or would investing in community strengths, on the theory that “a rising tide lifts all boats”, offer a better way forward?

While leaders are under pressure to respond to all of these priorities, resource scarcity makes “both/and” approaches difficult.  And many of our formal tools—from laws and regulations to institutions
and funding streams—lack the agility to effect the changes we need when we need them.

Connecting Bright Spots

Despite the complexity of these challenges, there is hope. People from all sectors and all levels of “rank” and experience are coming forward to solve these problems and are finding new ways to lead in the process.

During our one-year study
of the field of public policy known as workforce, we found many examples of leaders—including non-traditional leaders—creating new solutions in unexpected ways. In particular, they are experimenting with new methods of public participation, co-creation, and volunteer-led initiatives to expand learning opportunities (even if not in traditional “schools”), and connect people to work (even if not in traditional "jobs"). They are embracing agendas that, a decade ago, would have seemed far afield—from broadband adoption to entrepreneurship.

These leaders are social innovators, in addition to their roles as elected officials, bureaucrats, policy wonks, “geeks”, moms, or neighborhood activists. They are both ordinary and extraordinary.

Below this brief video accompanying the report Weadership: The Future of Workforce Leadership are two examples of leaders in action from our respective home communities.

Portland hacks. In May 2011, Cyborg Anthropologist, entrepreneur, and twenty-something Amber Case organized an Education Hackathon on a Sunday in a business incubator in downtown Portland, OR. A handful of senior level education officials identified key problems they thought technology might be able to help fix. About 25 technologists (programmers, hackers, strategists, designers, etc.) listened, asked questions, and then divided into teams to tackle three problems. It was a friendly competition. Eight hours later, the winning team had developed a mobile app to better connect young people and their parents or guardians to summer activities and jobs in their communities—a problem clearly spanning workforce, education, and community development domains.

The team also conducted an impressive amount of asset mapping in the process. The gaps and opportunities identified that day inspired program changes right away, and highlighted systemic fixes for challenges youth-serving organizations had long struggled with. The city, county, workforce board, and youth providers are all working on next steps.

Silicon Valley remakes and retools. For decades, Silicon Valley has been a fast changing economy. More risk tolerant than many communities, it has seen some firms radically and rapidly expand and others collapse overnight. Whole new industries emerge with regularity. But today, even Silicon Valley faces high unemployment, especially among seasoned technology professionals who can have difficulty reentering the job market after a lay-off. Leaders have responded with all of their traditional tools, but they are also trying some new ones. For example a diverse partnership jointly commissioned a study of the technology cluster to provide a shared body of knowledge and common set of strategies for colleges, economic and workforce development professionals, and city and county leaders from the public and private sectors.

Workforce leaders are also responding to what some call the “job mindset” which keeps many experienced workers from securing employment. Flexibility Bootcamps use peer learning, open space, improv, and other techniques to help job seekers identify and market their value to an enterprise, rather than their ability to do a specific job. Some even decide they can make their own jobs.

Uncommon Approaches

In our research we encountered dozens of examples of workforce leaders learning from policy innovations like crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, social innovation and entrepreneurship, “Gov2.0” initiatives, even “gameful” technologies, with the intent of engaging their communities in productive learning, work, enterprise, and problem-solving.

Most promising is the swell of interest in such solutions from leaders across sectors in communities everywhere. As innovators they demonstrate the potential of uncommon partnerships and a focus on significant, sustainable, and scalable experiments for remaking community prosperity.

They, you, us—we are the new WPA.

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Photo Credit: DB's Travels on Flickr

 

Post
Oct 1, 2011

519 People Who Care About Jobs and a Needed Conversation About Leadership, Innovation, and the Future

This post, authored by Kristin Wolff and Vinz Koller, was originally published on the Social Innovation Exchange Blog, September 26, 2011.
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An Exploration of Leadership

There was a moment this spring, mid-way through a a project about the changing nature of leadership in the field of policy concerned with work and learning (we call it “workforce”), where we began to feel a renewed sense of excitement and promise.

The last several years have been tough for leaders working to help their communities achieve greater prosperity, especially in those parts of a Europe and the US where the rise of unemployment and corresponding social ills has been fast and severe. The housing crisis, unemployment, the escalating costs of health care and education, and a public sector in fiscal crisis—it can feel like an onslaught.

For policy and community leaders, the relentless push for efficiencies, cost-cutting strategies, and evidence-based practices—each important in its own way—can inhibit deeper thinking about the most critical contributions these leaders and their organizations make to the well being of their communities.

What We Learned

But we found leaders who were thinking deeply about their communities’ most significant challenges and what they could do about them—in partnership with government and non-profit organizations, and with businesses and citizens themselves.

The goal of our project was to explore the changing nature of workforce leadership—what leaders do, in what context, and toward what end, and how these have shifted over the past decade (a more complete explanation is here).

We engaged 519 leaders from public, private, and nonprofit sectors at the federal, state and local levels, documenting our activities on the project’s website along the way. We identified a framework and set of six practices sufficiently different from a decade ago to constitute a new model of leadership—we call it WEadership, a nod to its collaborative nature.

Three Insights Worth Thinking About

Three ideas that emerged during the project that strike us as posing fundamental challenges to the way we organize, manage, and assess investments in workforce.

1. Conversation Matters.

Repeatedly, workforce leaders told us that convening conversation with partners, stakeholders, program providers, local elected officials and citizens is the most important work they do. Not just important work, the most important work.

This will not be surprising to those experienced in the art and science of innovation as it is a social process. The source of much innovation is the blending and mixing of new ideas, technologies, and methods from one sector with those of another. Workforce leaders have long been hosting (both formally and informally) conversations about how to solve the jobs, skills, and economic development challenges in their communities. These conversations inform the actions of not just policy makers and workforce leaders, but everyone around the proverbial table that employs or develops people or supports a business. Such conversations have never been more important.

The problem is that the effects of this kind of work are difficult to evidence, especially in the short term.

As one a respondent in rural Iowa put it:
 
"When you use networks to move an agenda, it’s influence and momentum that matter. Changes can be small, but they are also cumulative—one day you look up and a lot of things are really different. But we don’t always have the ability to say 'A led to B.'"
 
This fuzziness makes some leaders uncomfortable. As a result, we do not acknowledge convening as legitimate work. This means we do not invest in our capacity to do it successfully, and we do not talk about it when we are successful for fear it will be seen as lacking in rigor.
 
But such convening is an essential ingredient in good policy and a necessary one for implementing better solutions to our most intractable problems.
 
2. Connectivity is a game changer.

The second insight has to do with social technologies. The fact that hundreds of millions of people are connected to one another using technology creates whole new possibilities for engaging in work, learning, and entrepreneurship in very different ways:

  • The explosion of peer-learning communities in the workplace and web-based platforms like Skillshare, P2PU, and Khan Academy are challenging our ideas about the very nature of educational institutions—is Skillshare school? Workforce leaders are asking themselves how these platforms can play a role in addressing skills gaps or simply engaging people in productive activity.
  • Manpower and other firms in the business of connecting people to work (even if not in traditional jobs) have been joined by firms like Taskrabbit that enable people to make a living by aggregating “gigs.” In the absence of sufficient numbers of jobs—even if there were a perfect match between the skills firms need and those job-seekers can supply—workforce leaders are asking themselves how these ‘unjobs’ can offer opportunities for those who need them, and what role policy can play in realizing them.
  • Peer-lending, microphilanthropy, and crowdfunding are helping us reimagine what it meansto launch a venture. While nearly every local workforce leader with whom we spoke indicated that job creation was a workforce issue, the linkage became more tenuous at the state level (except in the seven states that maintain self-employment programs) and almost invisible at the federal level. But social ventures of the kind typically supporting through platforms like Kickstarter are a kind of hybrid. They can enable people to make their own jobs (or ‘gigs’) by aggregating investors (“backers”) who support specific projects or initiatives. Again, workforce leaders are exploring how such platforms might connect people to opportunity in nontraditional ways.

3. Boldness wanted. Finally, across the board, workforce leaders expressed a desire for bolder experiments. Too often, the theories of change driving what are called “innovation initiatives” are determined at the top (whether by foundations or federal agencies) with little input from the field, and reflect the risk-averse culture of their organizations. As a result, local leaders often feel like they are working very hard to improve existing programs or approaches they know should be wholly reinvented. In addition, where innovation does occur, there are few mechanisms to share it with the field.

And yet, many, many leaders we spoke with persevere, seeking to maximize their impact on the economical health and social well being of their communities. Today, leaders at all levels and across sectors need to find ways to learn together, and to better support each other in solving what are absolutely critical community problems.

We are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.
 

Kristin Wolff and Vinz Koller, of Social Policy Research Associates, authored the WEadership Guide (August 2011), the result of a one-year US Department of Labor study of leadership in the field of public policy concerned with work and learning. We were thrilled at the opportunity to link our professional pursuits (public policy) with our personal commitments to positive social change and innovation, and look to increase, accelerate, and intensify these connections within the field of workforce in the coming months. The entire project is documented at EnhacingWorkforceLeadership.org. Follow it at @WFLeadership.

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