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May 22, 2011

Idaho’s Department of Labor - Partnering to Address the Jobless Recovery

landscape of Idaho with sign

Jobs First.
“Jobs is our number one agenda”, states Roger Madsen, Director of the Idaho Department of Labor. He and his staff are working to become an “indispensable partner to business, economic development, education institutions, the Chamber of Commerce and other community agencies” trying to boost job growth. Roger is one of 12 individuals nominted by his peers as an exceptional leader under the Enhancing Workforce Leadership Initiative.

Roger had plenty of good insights into effective leadership that will be integrated into our final product, but we couldn’t wait to share a few highlights.

Business Solutions
Idaho’s Department of Labor is not in the business of providing services, but providing solutions.  The Idaho team wants businesses, job seekers and other community agencies to look to them for answers to their workforce issues. They have trained staff as Business Solutions Consultants who work with businesses, economic development, and other agencies to identify and respond to community workforce problems. They conduct “listening tours” and then use the information gleaned from businesses and community agencies to inform planning, resource allocation, and service design. Roger stated that “by being at the table, but not owning it” they are able to learn about the local workforce development challenges and organize to act on them quickly and effectively.  

Look to Lessons from Life to Become a Highly Effective Leader
Roger argues that effective leadership also stems from life lessons. He pointed us to Leonardo DaVinci, from whom he learned that “in a time of ambiguity we need to thrive and not just survive”. This requires looking for opportunities like anablep fish who constantly cruise the surface of the water.  Anableps are business so called four-eyed fish because they appear to have four eyes—two that sit above the water level and two that sit below the water level.  In truth, the anablep does not have four eyes—it has two eyes that are divided to allow the fish to see things that are above it in the air as well as things that are below it in the water. Anableps, like highly effective leaders, make sense of all these images, to keep track of predators above them in the air and food below them in the water at the same time—to plunge or leap accordingly.

Roger looks to Edward Lorenz, mathematician and meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), for lessons on life and leadership. Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect” states that a butterfly flapping its wings in South America can affect the weather in Central Park. “By starting small and following through”, Roger says,” you will have a greater impact than you might have ever imagined.”

Isaac Perlman, who was still able to perform beautifully with a broken string, and Thomas Quasthoff, a famous bass-baritone, who, despite some physical limitations has become a world renowned opera singer, also inspire.  Roger holds that an effective leader can’t make excuses and doesn’t use issues and challenges as an excuse to not be able to do something. They use them as an opportunity to solve a problem and make a difference.

Roger's list of key skills and abilities of a highly effective leader includes: being disciplined, organized, collaborative, family friendly and a visionary, being able to “see with the heart” and think outside the box (especially a big box), displaying high technology skills, setting measurable goals and metrics to perform, providing win-win situations and continuous opportunities for staff to learn, allowing staff to take risks, helping staff to feel nurtured and nourished, expecting and demanding high performance.  He states that effective leadership, like Kris Kristofferson said in one of his songs, is a “walking contradiction”. 

For more on that, stay tuned to the Enhancing Workforce Leadership Initiative channel.

May 18, 2011

In Case You Missed OpenGovWest...

Clay Shirky in UsNow - the Film

(Click image to play video above)

What's OpenGovWest?
Part conference, part unconference, OpenGovWest is an open government accelerator and community builder. The idea is to provide a forum for people and government to meet and learn about collaboration, transparency, and participation.

Convened in Portland, Oregon this past weekend, the event was FANTASTIC! And it wasn't just "west" - our people map revealed representation from Florida, New York, Iowa, Nebrask, Brasil, and all over Canada. The knowledge and energy OGWers shared was impressive. Panels on apps competition to culture change to participatory budgeting were highly engaging and loaded with insight.

As an alum of similar conferences and events, I am thrilled that the center of gravity is moving away from "open data" and toward a broader, deeper notion of "open government - the one that first sent chills up my spine in the documentary UsNow. The film is so inspiring that even two years after release, I find myself returning to it whenver I lose my compass.

And the Connection to Workforce Leadership?
First, workforce is a policy area of government. Like other policy areas opening themselves up, workforce too, could learn from and contribute to the body of knowledge and practice emerging around participatory processes. From collaborative budgeting, to on-line debating, voting, and collective problem-solving, new tools are helping governments around the world engage their citizens as never before - and at scale. An amazing collection of videos illustrating these trends is here on the O'Reilly Gov2.0 Expo site.

Second, open processes employ multi-level communications in which people can talk (and collaborate) directly with each other. This creates the possiblity for people to go beyond  influencing government policy to actually designing and delivering solutions to policy problems. People tweeting jobs to each other or sharing leads on LinkedIn are small examples. The myriad of emerging social learning platforms offer the possiblity of more profound change. As for collaboration? In a six-hour Code-a-thon at OpenGovWest, the winning team built an open source app that makes editable and sharebale 211 community service information for Portland and Multnomah County. (Wow.) This is information our workforce centers use every day.

Third, the same technologies making government more participatory, transparent, and collaborative are also changing every workplace and every school in America and across the world. The Future (of Work and Learning) is already here, it's just not evenly distributed.* Workforce leaders have an opportunity to help their firms and workers get ahead of these changes, increasing their competitiveness and ability to navigate a career, not just find a job, and engage in a lifetime of learning, and not just school.

And we're just getting started.


For more information about OpenGovWest:


*Yes, this is a thinly veiled reference to William Gibson.



May 16, 2011

United States of Innovation Offers Insight, Points to New Kinds of Jobs, Learning Opportunities, Approaches to Community Problem-Solving

Fast Company's Tour of Innovation

Fast Company's Innovation Survey
This month's Fast Company Magazine features of look at what it calls The United States of Innovation - a survey of innovation and innovators from across sectors and across states.

All 50 States and the District of Columbia
Each has something unique to offer citizens, governments, entrepreneurs and other changemakers seeking to help their communities prosper. But a few of them speak to issues workforce leaders think about each and every day. We'd encourage you to glance at all of them, but if you've only got a minute, here's our top five short-list - curated just for you.

  1. Kentucky: Eric Patrick Marr's Lexenomics - and the Smart Series, in particular (more here). Eric's seems pretty confident that it's people - Kentucky residents working, learning, and playing together - that will keep Lexington thriving.
  2. Maryland: The Baltimore Free School. From Portuguese to politics to poetry, peer-based, participatory learning rules here. What else could we teach this way?
  3. North Carolina: The Charlotte Regional Partnership provides a way for 12 counties to work together in support of prosperity - and the people smarts to make sure it lasts. We'd also give these folks props for their transparency - all the partners (public and private) are listed on the easy-to-navigate website, and social media options are right there on the homepage.
  4. Ohio:The tagline for Cincinnati's Strive Partnership is "Every child, every step of the way, cradle to career." Now who can't get behind that? This initiative was also cited during our group interviews as a top-notch example of workforce leadership. We'd point you to the serious accountability support here - dashboards, report cards, and a clear theory of change all right there. Makes us want to volunteer from all the way across the country.
  5. Oregon*: Portland State University's Social Innovation Incubator is just one of the many initiatives aiming to transform the way we solve community problems in Portland and beyond. Springboard Social Innovation is working on Hatch, a social innovation incubator that not only offers space and support, but access to capital aimed at social impact, not just profit. This is no small feat. The Lemelson Foundation is working in the US and around the world to help current and future generations invent a better future. And the Meyer Memorial Trust is launching a community innovation platform to connect citizen problem-solvers to each other and to community organizations, institutions and governments, piloting new ways to collaborate on improving our communities in ways that make us all smarter.

Full disclosure: I live in Oregon and will admit to Oregon's slight advantage in making our top-five list. Your comments are welcome.

May 12, 2011

What does Transparency Have to do with Workforce Leadership?

TransparencyCamp Video
Big Changes.

Leaders agree: things are changing. Not just small things, like whether there's a cap on training resources or the timeline for coming board meetings. Big things, like the relationship of citizens to their government and to the institutions they interact with every day: school, work, even family.

Fundamentally, three (interelated) dynamics underlie these changes:

  1. Connectivity. As Clay Shirky notes, "More people can say more things to more people than ever before in history." Increasingly, people are moving beyond just talking, they are taking action - action that once required the creation of large organizations and institutions, but no longer does.
  2. Innovations in hardware and software. Increased capacity and new devices make it possible to aggregate and manage enormous data sets; better software, much of which sits in "the cloud", makes it easier for people (and not just experts) to organize, understand, use, and share information.
  3. Context. We've just experienced the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression - and this one was nearly global. Our shared challenges (as Americans, and as global citizens) now stand in stark relief: we need better ways to work together to meet our needs, responsibly, and within our economic means. It's a daunting challenge made more so with each day's headline - 1 in 7 Americans on Food Stamps or Home Foreclosures Slow (because banks can't keep up); or reports from the latest natural disaster

But citizens (and not just US citizens) are stepping up to meet these challenges, collaborating in unprecedented ways. They are:

What Does This Mean for Workforce Leaders?
Workforce leaders confront many serious challenges - unprecedented levels of unemployment, slow job growth, skills mismatches, etc. Typically, workforce programs seek to remedy these ills by delivering services. But what if leaders sought to create spaces (online ad offline) where people could help each other? Surely the wisdom of a crowd whose members are looking for jobs woud benefit the individuals in that crowd.

Similarly, what if workforce leaders made space for people to help each other learn? Basic skills, job skills, even vocational skills - sometime individuals don't need a "credential", mastery of a set of skills will suffice. This is particularly true in emerging industries whose jobs are more difficult to define and describe. What if workforce leaders saw independently-organized unconferences (e.g., jobcamps) and similar events as part of a broader community response to workforce challenges - and promoted and participated in them, too?

And what if workforce leaders thought seriously about how to help people find not just jobs, but "gigs?" With unemployment a stubbornly high 9%, and as many as eight times as many job-seekers as jobs, there are simply too few jobs. While many workforce leaders are engaged on the long-term job creation agenda, far fewer are advancing entrepreneurship, self-employment, or other initiatives that can help people sustain themselves while they build new careers. Only seven states offer a Self-Employment Assistance program that allows individuals to start their own businesses with their unemployment insurance.

And the Video?
The video above is from a recent TransparencyCamp convened in our nation's capital earlier this month. It's a good example of many of these trends coming together. It's a camp-style event in which participants organize and share content with the aim of partnering with government(s) to solve problems. And while it's about open government, it might just say something about what it looks like to lead on workforce issues in the future.



May 11, 2011

Regional Competitiveness at the Heart of Workforce Development

MN State Capitol

“Whatever we are doing in workforce has got to be tied to regional competitiveness” says Kathy Sweeney, the Strategic Project Manager for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.  We spoke with Kathy recently about the most pressing issues and challenges facing workforce development leaders. “So we in Minnesota, have a very diverse economy” she explained.  “We have an agriculture economy that’s very, very big.  We have a forest economy, we have a Great Lakes economy, we have a metro-business center/corporate center economy, etc. So when we are looking at workforce development, it has to be in the context of what’s going on in the region.”

Partnerships Matter
How should leaders approach regional competitiveness? Well, partnerships are one key component. “Collaborative partnerships - I don’t think we can say enough about them,” Kathy stated and she should know. Kathy works closely with 47 workforce centers, a myriad of community colleges, and a range of other partners across the state to deliver workforce programs, secure competitive funding, and respond to fluctuations in Minnesota’s economy.  

But she is also the first to concede that she couldn’t manage these relationships
alone. She credits a supportive state-level infrastructure that facilitates collaboration.  “Every single day I am working with Minnesota state colleges and universities and with our adult basic education programs and with our TANF programs that are housed in other agencies.  We literally have a virtual team that is working on these competitive proposals and working on our services at the workforce center level all the time… We [also] have a workforce council association that is made up of the WIBs - I work closely with their director.”

To focus its workforce efforts on regional strengths, the state has streamlined information-sharing among regional leaders. In addition to appointing regional administrators, there are six individuals responsible for working across the regions. Explains Kathy, “They’re the ones that bring together the workforce service areas around regional issues. We have people that work in the Northeastern part of the state, in mining; and in the Great Lakes on natural resources and, of course, we have a metro person. These are the go-to people for me ... They’re the ones that go out and actually do the convening and round up all the characters and make sure everything’s getting done. We also have regional labor market analysts [economists], who work in the regions, and they are the people who pull together all the economic and workforce data so that the work that we do can be informed.”  Kathy also works with business reps who coordinate with private firms on workforce issues. “I have this incredible network of colleagues and local partners ... I’d say working with them makes my job possible ... That infrastructure is really important to get the kind of results we’re getting.”

Not Just “Business as Usual”
We asked Kathy how the state developed some of its most innovative ideas. The answer is simple: learning from other states. Kathy and other Minnesota workforce leaders credit the National Governor's Association academies as invaluable for networking with other states who are doing interesting work and tackling challenging issues.  “We learned a lot from our peers,” Kathy recalls. 

Kathy also lauded the competitive grant process as a gateway to innovation and collaboration.  A focus on applying for public and foundation funding has placed Minnesota in a very competitive position—a situation they don’t take for granted. As she stated “If you work hard and you work together I think you can do well competitively, but it takes a lot of organizing and a comprehensive approach.”   

In addition to the obvious monetary benefits, Kathy stressed that applying for grants can be a useful learning and collaborative tool. During our conversation she praised her interactions with workforce leaders from other states while working on Minnesota FastTRAC (a collaborative effort to help adult Minnesotans obtain credentials), funded through the Joyce Foundation. “Our ability to do that has been greatly enhanced by working with Joyce and with the other states that are in that project.  They’ve really helped us learn, for instance, from a state who is not in the project, Washington State, with their I-best program.  We’ve been out to visit and have had a lot of help from the state of Washington.  So those are some of things that have been above and beyond what we get from our normal routine of transactions.”

May 6, 2011

Leadership & Business Support "Boot Camp" Delivers a Punch

Photo of Speaker

Remagining Business Support in the Workforce System
This week, project team members Vinz Koller and Kristin Wolff participated in a leadership conference for business support professionals hosted by the US Department of Labor Employment and Training Adminstration. Attendees convened at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center and were treated to a fast-paced series of engaging learning activities and events focused on using new technologies and improving service quality.

Importantly, however, event organizers also made space for conversation about the deeper changes occuring in thier work, their organizations, and their communities. We heard stories about how the the economic downturn explosed structural shifts in local and regional economies, causing community leaders, policy makers, and business support professionals from across sectors to reevaluate the businesses they are in and the value they create. We heard about the challenges of engaging business in the srategic way, in the context of relentless pressure to content workers and jobs immediately. And we heard about the profound changes occuring in K-12 and post-secondary education and support programs intended to keep young people learning the skills they will need for work, and for life.

Session on Workforce Leadership
In this context, our project team offered a session specifically focused on (workforce) leadership, engaging participants in a simulation and sharing preliminary highlights from the Enhancing Workforce Leadership study.

We are grateful to event organizers at the Department of Labor (Jennifer Troke & team and Gina Wells, who connected us), Maher & Maher (especially Bruce Rankin), and everyone who participated - the energy, passion, and insights shared in 90-minutes bowled us over.

Our photos are available on Flickr here (licensed under Creative Commons), and our (evolving) research materials here.

Oh, and our tweets are collected here (we put the link into Ideascale too, here).


May 6, 2011

Research Club Cares About Workforce Leadership, Too!

Kristin Wolff at Research Club

It's More Than Breakfast
This is me at Research Club Brunch in Portland, Oregon, April 30, 2011.

Research Club is a community based think-tank. It offers "classes" that support professional development and, well, life - how to plant a victory garden or make kimchee, for example. And once a month, it hosts a brunch: we all bring food, and a few community members present what they are working on to whomever attends. Presenters apply in advance and organizers schedule presentations. Here is the Research Club Mission Statement (I particularly like #3).

What Gets Shared?
Presentations at recent brunches covered subjects like:

  • The effects of mining on the lanscapes and identities of communities in the west;
  • Native American influence on economic and community development along key trade routes in Oregon; and
  • The evolution of creative co-working and innovation spaces in Northern Europe (and separately, in our own Portland, Oregon!)

Bruch typically includes a musical (or other artistic) performance - this time it was the charming Ciara Caurrthers on her ukelele (I have been listening to ukelele music ever since).

Who Attends?
Presenters comprise a mix of working professionals, small business owners, students, and grad-students, though Research Club does hold particular appeal for people who work long-distance and those engaged in "gigs" rather than traditional jobs, as both groups have less physical interaction with colleagues than people who work in more traditional environments.

How Did Workforce Leadership Wind Up On The Agenda?
In March of this year, I was discussing the Enhancing Workforce Leadership project with Research Club Co-Founder, Nim Wunnan, who encouraged me to apply as a presenter. Given how much our project team has emphasized engagement in the project overall, I couldn't say no. But I did wonder, "Are people going to know what I'm talking about? Will they care? Will they scream and yell about the absence of job opportunities in their fields or communities?"

I presented. And people cared.

Also in attendance that day were:

  • Global Alien, a group of Asian and European performance artists exploring immigration and globalization - they engaged me in a discussion about labor policy in Korea, Germany, and the UK;
  • Ilie Mataru, a journalist (who writes about jobs) and serial entrepreneur about to launch his first social venture - or whatever you call a business that is about mission and not just money (Stake Magazine coming soon);
  • Max Ogden, Code for America (CFA) fellow who asked if I knew about the US Department of Labor project with CFA intended to support returning veterans transitioning into civilians jobs, school, training, or their own business (I did not know about this).

These and others in attendance helped me see the connections between our respective fields in new ways. And engaging like this helps me communicate complex information about workforce development issues, systems, and policy in ways that invite people to find themselves in the content I'm sharing.

It's reassuring to me that people ("the public") are not only interested in public policy but want to improve it, even participate in solutions. What I didn't expect was that they, too, are reassured by the knowledge that jobs, education, and prosperity are worked on and worried about in a serious way by workforce leaders every day.

Other Takeaways
These kinds of activities are part of my own DIY-U effort. But they also suggest something important about how information and knowledge is shared in our increasingly connected world.

  • Learning can be community organized - outside of school and other traditional institutions.
  • Networks enable the kind of serendipty that not only accelerates innovation, but is a delight to experience.
  • A lot of deep knowledge - especially that involved in system and community change - is cross-disciplinary.

Research Club is not a substitute for the basics of math, reading or principles of electrical engineering, but it does offer an alternative model for learning that also builds networks and leverages ideas, resources, and people-power from communities that just might be interested your cause.

May 3, 2011

How to Change When Change is Hard

Workforce leaders identified the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, as a valuable leadership development resource.  The book examines why we tend to resist change and how change occurs when one individual decides to act differently. 

May 3, 2011

Exhibit C: Nametags and Roles

Identities, Everyone Needs One.
This is Diane.

She's a workforce professional most days, but today, she's a small
business owner - a jewelry manufacturer to be specific.

When you run a simulation like this one, be sure to think about the
kinds of people who would not necessarily be at the top of the list of
invitees to your simulated event, but could add significant value. For
examploe, in our simulations, we typically include the roles: musician,
poet, artist, and of course, data visualization specialist.

Here is the list or roles/identities we used for the community simulations.
You can use it as is, or as the basis for creating your very own. The
numbers simply the group number. We had some idea of the number of
attendees before we arrived, but we wanted to make sure we distributed
roles appropriately - and that groups were approximately equal in size.
As a result, we distributed the half of the first three sets first, and
then turned to the fourth, fifth, and sixth, while filling in the
remaing roles from the first, second, and third sets as more people
entered the room.

Tip: Think about which roles needs to be in each group to enable a great learning experience, and distribute those role/nametags first.

Other resources you will need to complete the simulation include:

They are all available for use/download. We hope you find them useful (and use the comment section below to let us know!)

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