Guest Post by Third Sector – Massachusetts Workforce Partners Learning Community: Incremental Steps Towards Outcomes-Oriented Approaches

In a series of workshops held in partnership with MassHire Workforce Boards and Career Centers, Third Sector worked with MassHire partners to share initial steps participants could take to make their services more outcomes-oriented, thus improving outcomes for jobseekers and employers in their communities.  MassHire partners were interested in learning these initial steps they could take, given their capacity constraints.  Through the workshop series, the participants were able to examine their data to identify priority populations to focus on, stakeholders to collaborate with, and began to implement more outcomes-oriented processes.  At the end of the series, the Workforce Boards expressed the great value they got from the concepts and tools presented during the workshops.

The three-part workshop series and Learning Community was in partnership with Massachusetts Workforce Association, and attended by five MassHire Workforce Boards and Career Centers.  The Learning Community was principally funded by a grant from the Prudential Foundation.  Third Sector presented an approach that differed from the participants’ prior experience with outcomes-based contracts, as the incremental approach mitigated some of the previous challenges faced when implementing performance-based contracts in workforce.  The Workforce Boards were eager to apply this approach to their community contexts.

Due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic during the workshop series, the Learning Community paused for two months as the sites were shifting to remote work and facing an unprecedented increase in unemployment insurance benefits claims.  When it resumed, Third Sector facilitated the remaining two workshops remotely, adapting the content to include how outcomes-oriented approaches could be applied to the sites’ current relief and recovery response context.

During Listening Tours held at MassHire sites, Third Sector discussed each site’s priority populations and community needs.  MassHire partners decided that their focus populations would be WIOA youth and employers.  The workshop series built off these discussions, presenting tools that MassHire partners could implement to improve outcomes for these priority populations. The tools that MassHire Workforce Boards and Career Centers said that they found most helpful and applicable were:

Data Disaggregation: In normal circumstances it is important to identify subpopulations that are being underserved in communities.  This enables Career Centers to connect these underserved populations with industries that are in need of workers in the region.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more crucial for MassHire partners to ascertain which populations are more vulnerable, and what additional support can be provided for these populations. Hence, the first tool presented in the Learning Community was a data disaggregation activity.  MassHire partners examined current data trends and outcomes for priority populations and were able to identify subpopulations that they wanted to focus on to improve their outcomes.

Stakeholder Engagement: MassHire partners work with providers, local and state government agencies and community agencies.  Outcomes-oriented approaches are developed in close collaboration with stakeholders.  This gives stakeholders input in the process and allows for a shared understanding of the issue and approach.  Third Sector presented tools for MassHire partners to determine which current and new stakeholders they should engage with to improve outcomes for their chosen priority subpopulations and develop a stakeholder engagement plan.  For example, MassHire Greater Lowell Workforce Board focused on WIOA out-of-school youth.  They were able to identify new stakeholders, high schools and youth agencies in different regions, in order to improve outreach and increase enrollment in their WIOA youth programs.

Root Cause Analysis: Third Sector introduced a root cause analysis activity for MassHire Partners to use in conversations with stakeholders.  This activity enabled MassHire Partners to reach the deepest root causes to identify the barriers/ trends preventing priority subpopulations from achieving desired outcomes.  Focusing on the deepest root causes prevents resources from being invested in ‘surface’ areas that don’t address the real cause of the problem.  Thus, MassHire Partners could then use the activity to determine potential solutions to the issues and formulate goals.

MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board was focused on employers in the manufacturing sector, to better understand the demand-side of manufacturing jobs.  They wanted to increase outreach and recruitment for training in entry level manufacturing employment.  An initial analysis might have suggested they should increase marketing for manufacturing jobs, however after examining the deepest root causes in the activity, the Learning Community drew the connection between older out of school youth and the manufacturing sector.  Specifically examining the various causes of the low enrollment of this group into manufacturing training programs.

The Learning Community provided MassHire Partners with a better understanding of the process and benefits of shifting towards outcomes-oriented approaches.  Outcomes-oriented approaches are not just about including financial incentives in contracts.  The process changes the relationship between funders and providers, thus allowing for improved performance and outcomes through continuous improvement processes and regular data driven conversations.

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