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A Missing Link in Workforce Development: Quality Jobs

We’ve written repeatedly over the years about the many challenges that confront workforce development programs. Back in the early 1990s, one of the big issues was the penchant to cherry-pick clients who could probably have gotten jobs on their own, in order to show that the programs were successful – at least on paper.

Since then, we’ve written about problems with incentives; tense intergovernmental relations between state or federal programs and local needs; ongoing issues with sharing data and the need to track results.

One ongoing problem that we hadn’t considered in the past is the nature of the jobs into which clients of workforce development programs get placed.

“At a high level, the workforce system hasn’t been focused on quality jobs,” says Celeste Richie, the vice president for workforce development at Results for America (RFA) “The performance measures are about getting someone into a job as quickly as possible and that leads to churn with someone getting served, getting placed in a job that is not high quality and then ending up back at the job center.”

We first met Richie (virtually speaking) last month when we were researching our January 31 column in Route Fifty about how data is being used by state and local governments to achieve greater equity in the funding and delivery of services. At the time, we heard briefly about RFA’s State and Local Workforce Fellows and the job quality pilot that is part of it. Yesterday, we pursued the topic more deeply to find out more about the pilot and its goals, so we could share the information with readers of our website.

Data was a key focus of this conversation, as it was in our Route Fifty column. Part of the mission of the pilots, which currently operate in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia, is to clearly define the elements that create a high-quality job and the data necessary to measure them. These include earnings; the potential for earning and career growth; employer provided benefits and stable scheduling. There are also elements that are harder to measure like the feeling of safety at a job or the sense of autonomy.

“We’re figuring out what data Is most easily accessible,” says Richie. “Is it available? Where is it falling short? And where do we want to look for it?”

A bit more background. The pilots, which are expanding, are currently drawn from RFA’s State and Local Workforce Fellows, which involves 34 individual participants across seven states and 14 local jurisdictions, with each state and its local partners organized into a team. Participants include government-run workforce development agencies and non-profit partners.

The pilots are taking different approaches. One effort in Colorado, involves looking at public sector jobs and using data to measure the quality of a government’s own jobs.

Others have included the participation of local employers who agree to have their own jobs assessed for quality. That data is stored, with access restricted to participants, on the Working Metrics website.

These pilots also provide employers the opportunity to see how they can improve the quality of the jobs they have available by adjusting what they offer employees – including, for example, paid family leave. “People think it’s all about money, and we want to show that there are other elements to job quality that you can work on,” Richie says.

Ultimately, the idea is to match and “crosswalk” quality jobs with demographic information on employees and job trainees. Creating more high-quality jobs and making sure they’re distributed more equitably can help everyone concerned; both the employers who can cut turnover rates, and the employees who won’t want to be looking for greener pastures.


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