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To Get More from Your Workforce Dollars, Begin with the End in Mind

Connecting individuals with the right skills to employers seeking those skills is a complex art. Far too often, immediate needs lead to reliance on plug-n-play solutions that may work for some but ultimately are devoid of context and nuance. Achieving the data and technology solutions that help improve outcomes for employers and job-seekers means looking closely into where needs lie, which questions need answers, and how the people who rely on your solution will utilize it.

Considering the Workforce Ecosystem

The vast and diverse workforce ecosystem encompasses nearly every facet of society, from schools and employers to economic development, childcare, and even healthcare entities. Having that many players involved brings a lot of opportunity, but it also creates complexity that can obstruct progress.

In my experience, taking time to carefully evaluate your intended outcomes builds understanding to enable more nuanced planning that significantly improves project or program efficacy. Some questions deserve to be answered before beginning delving into a project: What change do we want to see? What skills are needed? How do we develop equitable paths that lead there? How does an organization even know what’s effective? These and other questions define your way forward, and they are most productive when directed by three guiding principles:

Human-centric objectives make technology and data work better for humans.

Leading with technology tends to create solutions that nobody wants to use, which means spending is doubly wasted because not only was it never tailored to an objective but it doesn’t get utilized. A more productive first step is looking closely at what the people who will use your solution, from inside and outside your organization, need and want. That knowledge informs how your solution will serve your mission in the practical and ideological senses. It will do what you want it to in relation to how you serve customers, and it will help your people accomplish your mission.

Define the outcomes you want to see, and then get more granular about it. (And then more.)

Be excruciatingly and exactingly clear about the change you want to create. What specific outcomes do you want to see? It’s tempting to be general in hopes that something, somewhere, will stick, and you’ll find a way forward. The problem with broad, theoretically directed spending is that it’s tremendously inefficient and brings very little impact. A great deal of money and resources can be wasted if a specific outcome doesn’t guide your efforts.

Measure what needs measuring.

You wouldn’t believe how often we begin working with a client to answer a question that is integral to their mission and learn that the necessary datasets don’t exist. As data becomes more integral to every operation, many are playing catch-up. But an organization cannot know the impact of their programs until they can reliably measure the outcomes. Many have no idea how differently they may need to use their existing infrastructure to begin to get a handle on this–and what a transformative, impactful change it will be for them once implemented. Creating supportive systems that gather the right data and make it usable, sharable, easy to understand, and meaningful enables your initiatives to inform decision-making. When used to establish baselines and progress, the right metrics tell the story of how to better serve customers and where dollars can make the most impact. Clarifying needs results in refined, effective solutions—as you get started and as you progress toward the outcomes you want.

Moving from Questions to Value

Program value rarely means the same thing twice. It depends on such a range of services, changing demands, customer demographics, and a whole host of other factors that it just can’t be determined without taking a step back to figure out which questions are going to shed light into the right dark corners.

For a community college, to name one example, pressure is mounting to show ROI in much greater depth than traditional completion data can provide. Students want this information, and so do private and nonprofit organizations who might partner with the college. They want to know what happens to graduates after the degree is conferred. Showing their value, program by program and across demographic and geographic data over time.

Finding those answers depends on asking baseline questions such as how long job vacancies stay open, starting wages for various positions, and how many employees advance within the company versus pursuing advancement elsewhere. Pursuing these details helps show the college’s value in terms of dollars but also helps it develop relationships with students and partners that support meaningful change.

Toward an Economic Benefit from Technology, for Communities

Spending intentionally translates to economic benefits for the individual, employer, and community. These benefits can and should be measured but too rarely are. Does the student who goes through a particular training program see a wage increase? Do the employers partnering with you find better-qualified employees? A lot of programs measure who gets jobs and stop there. A more complete picture includes details like how long it took to find that job, how long the employee stayed, and whether the employer found greater productivity from the employee you trained.

Or consider tuition reimbursement programs. They’re thought to be a good draw when recruiting, and for many industries data backs that up. But how much actual value do they bring to employee and employer? Without parameters specifying course work or skills, the employee may not see a wage increase and the employer may not see greater productivity.

With the right metrics, an organization can easily show value to stakeholders and better tailor programming to meet need. Getting there can feel like starting over, but pausing to evaluate the human factor, the details of your intended outcomes, and which information will illuminate important factors builds your momentum (and your own ROI) exponentially.