Leveling Up the Workforce: Maria Flynn, CEO of Jobs for the Future, Discusses Gaining Credentials to Bridge Higher Ed and the Workforce
In the ever-changing workforce in America today, employers are starting to move away from requiring traditional educational routes. Career readiness is pivoting toward tracks with on-the-job accreditation and apprenticeships. These new perspectives on career training are allowing for those with or without formal higher education experiences to get ahead in career fields that are in a period of change.
According to Maria Flynn, CEO of Jobs for the Future, “We are definitely seeing employers eager to, kind of, tap into previously untapped labor pools — which is exciting. That’s something we care deeply about.”
Jobs for the Future is a national nonprofit focused on helping underserved populations gain access to education and career opportunities. Throughout her 25 years of experience in workforce development and education and over ten years at Jobs for the Future, Maria has seen a number of employment and hiring trends come and go.
“I do think we’re also seeing a shift and more interest in skills-based hiring,” she says.
“So employers, I think, are starting to kind of take a leap away from insisting on certain degrees or credit — and particularly bachelor’s degrees — and being more open to different ways of attaining those skills and assessing those skills.”
Listen to our full interview with Maria Flynn from the 2018 LearnLaunch conference, and hear what she has to say about the different ways people are going about gaining those skills.
Hannah Nyren: Welcome to the EdTech Times podcast.
Hester Tinti-Kane: This is Hester Tinti-Kane with EdTech Times. And today I’m at the Learn Launch conference and I’m here with Maria Flynn and she’s the CEO of Jobs for the Future. How are you today?
Maria Flynn: Hi, I’m great. It’s great to be here.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So, Maria, can you tell us a little bit about Jobs for the Future, who you are and what you do?
Maria Flynn: Sure. We are a national nonprofit organization. We are based here in Boston but we do work around the country. We also have offices in Washington D.C. and in Oakland, California. And all of our work is around the mission of helping all young people and adults attain postsecondary credentials and move into family sustaining jobs. And we do that through a mix of policy work, research, technical assistance, and network building.
Hester Tinti-Kane: That’s wonderful. So I listened to you this morning, you were moderating a great panel on pathways in the workforce. So tell me a little bit more about that panel.
Maria Flynn: Sure. Yeah so it was a great panel. I was excited to be here, because it does seem that workforce is getting more and more focused, kind of, in the edtech space, which I think is terrific. So I’ve spent my whole career, over 25 years, in the workforce field and it seems like more and more attention is coming this way. I think, really, for three reasons: You know, one because of the shifts in skills that are needed because of the rising automation. So, kind of, the future of work issues that are rapidly becoming the present of work. We’re also seeing in many parts of the country, you know, an unemployment rate that’s quite low — so here in the Boston region, and many other places where employers are more and more looking for how to get a broader pool of skilled workers. And so issues around the skills gap are becoming more front and center.
Maria Flynn: And then, you know, third, I think we are seeing technology more and more as a scale solution. When we look, we see like, what are effective practices in workforce training, and how does technology really serve as a solution for that? And so the panel this morning was great as a mix of perspectives, kind of, on those issues and some of the opportunities and challenges are in the field.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So it would be great to hear about how Jobs for the Future works with higher education providers and some of the strategies that they’re starting to use to help bridge the skills gap and prepare their students for workforce and careers.
Maria Flynn: So all of our work is really focused around the idea of career pathways, so career pathways to credentials and good jobs. And we are a national intermediary, so we do not do direct service, but we work with networks of state agencies, institutions, community-based organizations, and others and really help them design and implement pathways that lead to success. And I think some of the best practices that we see are definitely strong employer engagement between educational providers of all types and employers, and that can be challenging to do at scale but it’s critically important to success. We’re very interested in stackable credentials, so credentials that can enable folks to earn and learn at the same time and move up in their careers while they’re learning new skills.
Maria Flynn: We also believe that there also needs to be comprehensive student supports really, kind of, throughout the process. Knowing that, you know, issues around transportation, childcare, financing, and other things are really critical so it really requires, kind of, many players at the table. And, we really, JFF’s role is really to provide best practices to test models to see how effective they are, scale up the models that work, and then look at, what are the policy frameworks at the state and federal level that are needed to really fully scale and sustain effective practice?
Hester Tinti-Kane: So do you have a specific story that you might be able to tell about this work with higher education?
Maria Flynn: I can actually tell one that relates directly back to edtech. So one thing we are doing more and more of at JFF is to really see, how do we take our 35 years of experience working with these traditional systems and start to really serve as a bridge between those systems? And what I would call system disruptors, right? They’re tech-enabled solutions. And so we have been working with a Boston-based startup called Persistence Plus, which is a text-based nudging app. And with some funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, we awarded grants to four community colleges around the country. And these were colleges that we were already working with to help them really redesign their STEM pathways to ensure that they were meeting labor market demand, that they were really structured in a way that ensured student success. And we are now working with them to embed Persistence Plus along that pathway. So we released a press release about a week ago that showed that semester to semester persistence for those students was 10 percent higher for those using the app than who were not. So I think it’s a great example of where technology can really help drive student success as part of comprehensive system reform effort, if that makes sense. So exciting stuff and things that we want to do a lot more over the years ahead.
Hester Tinti-Kane: That’s really interesting. And you mentioned earlier employers, so we’ve just talked about some strategies and innovations with your higher education market. So what about the the employers that you’re working with?
Maria Flynn: Yes. So we are very interested in work-based learning and apprenticeship models. We launched, a few months ago, a new center on apprenticeship and work-based learning and part of that is really reaching out to employers and helping them design and implement these types of strategies. Because I do think they are great examples of having an employer really, kind of, build their own talent. And at the same time, enabling the workers to earn and learn at the same time.
Maria Flynn: So we see some great examples both with, you know, large-scale corporations — so we work closely with CVS, The Hartford, Hilton hotels, and many others — and then also helping small and medium size employers implement these strategies through the use of regional intermediaries or, kind of, structures and organizations that can help smaller scale employers implement these kinds of models that they may not be able to do on their own. And so JFF has worked with those types of intermediaries for, for many years. We think it’s really effective in Cincinnati, Louisville, Kentucky, you know, many cities around the country are looking at that model.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So finally, let’s talk a little bit about some of those in-demand industries. Especially when you have a low unemployment rate. I mean, how are these employers finding the people, how are they getting them prepared to take whatever level, maybe entry level, maybe higher level, jobs in the industry?
Maria Flynn: So I think it’s a huge issue. So we are definitely seeing employers eager to, kind of, tap into previously untapped, you know, labor pools — which is exciting. That’s something we care deeply about. I do think we’re also seeing a shift and more interest in skills-based hiring. So employers, I think, are starting to kind of take a leap away from insisting on certain degrees or credit — and particularly bachelor’s degrees — and being more open to different ways of attaining those skills and assessing those skills.
Maria Flynn: So I think there’s still a long ways to go on that, but there’s a good trend in that direction. I think we’re also seeing good partnerships with community-based organizations. So groups like JVS (Jewish Vocational Service) here in Boston who can really help, kind of, prepare young people and adults for careers. So really serving as on-ramps onto career ladders for a lot of populations. And so I do think a key to employers is finding those right partnerships and kind of finding the right balance between public and private funding to make this really a very agile system.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So when you think about the employers that you work with and the industries that they represent, which industries are you working in the most?
Maria Flynn: So I would say advanced manufacturing, healthcare, I.T. You know, and then a lot of it is also very regionally dependent, right? So in Wichita, for example, we do a lot around aerospace. But I think if you looked nationally, I would definitely say I.T., advanced manufacturing, healthcare are really common ones that we see across the board.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Great. So it’s wonderful to have you here at the LearnLaunch conference, but you have your own conference coming up.
Maria Flynn: We do!
Hester Tinti-Kane: Do you want to do a little pitch for Horizons?
Maria Flynn: Absolutely. We’re having a conference called Horizons in June, June 13th and 14th in New Orleans and it’s really about the intersection between the future of work and economic advancement. And so looking deeply at the issues of technology and scale but also looking at issues around equity and “how do we ensure that in this time of transformation that the populations that we care deeply about are not further left behind? So how do we really build systems that ensure advancement for all?” So hope to see everybody there.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Wonderful. Thank you so much for your time, Maria.
Maria Flynn: Great. Thanks for having me.
Watch the full interview:
Jonah is a sophomore at Emerson College studying Writing, Literature, & Publishing as well as Political Communication. On campus, he is a publication editor, radio host, and on-air news talent. When he isn’t doing media-based activities, he enjoys reading a good book and having a warm cup of coffee.