Co-Invest for Impact: A Pivotal Model for Workforce Success

At the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, we catalyze our network to co-invest in a set of integrated solutions that enable workers, employers, and communities to advance a skilled workforce, promote good jobs and invest in equitable outcomes. By using a co-investment model that leverages both private and public funding, our network of communities have greater resources to do the work. In this blog series, we will dig into some of the different co-investment models being used in the National Fund’s network of regional collaboratives.

The following conversation with Amanda Duncan, Vice President and Chief Development Officer at the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas, and site director of PACES (Preparation for Advanced Career Employment System), highlights the unique strategies for co-investment in Wichita. This conversation was edited for brevity.

What does co-investment look like in Wichita? 

Our collaborative, Preparation for Advanced Career Employment System (PACES), has a unique funding structure. We receive funds directly from our community partner, United Way of the Plains, as well as sector investment from the State of Kansas. Additionally, we also receive direct funding from the City of Wichita, private foundations, business associations, and individual employers.

Tell us about your collaborative’s funding model and the types of resources that you’re leveraging in the Wichita region. How much is pooled vs. aligned funding?

The majority of our funding is pooled, close to 65%. Direct funding comes into the collaborative from our funding partners, and we also leverage federal WIOA funds that we manage as the local workforce development board for the Wichita area. Aligned funds within our collaborative are leveraged through employer investments that do not flow through us but co-fund the same projects. Employers submit budgets for their proposed programs and, if approved, we provide up to 50% of the program cost. So, while the employer’s full training cost is not funded through PACES, we still count their portion toward the total investment PACES makes in the sector for training programs.

PACES’ primary focus is on low-income, low-skill individuals and the unemployed. We do not currently have a specific race equity component in our strategic plan, but that doesn’t mean that our programs do not support a diverse population. We focus some of our programs to specific zip codes that tend to have higher unemployment and more people of color. We do disaggregate data when making program adjustments to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our customers.

Some of our funders have equity and inclusion as a priority and ask us to target specific populations. For example, we received a grant in 2015 to expand employment opportunities for women in aviation. In another grant, we were required to have at least 25% of individuals served be people of color. So we intentionally recruited participants in conjunction with local community organizations and religious groups best connected to these communities. By the time the grant ended, we had well exceeded our goal, with people of color comprising 38% of the program’s participants.

Describe how you’ve been able to braid or blend private philanthropy and National Fund resources with state and federal funding. What are the benefits of this approach? Challenges?

When the Workforce Alliance formed in PACES in 2008, it was in the wake of a 50% reduction in federal workforce funds. National Fund resources allowed us to enhance and target services in high-demand, high-wage sectors.

A major benefit to braiding funding is the greater total funding available for jobseekers and employers. Braiding allows more flexible implementation and design, which can be more easily customized based on industry and employer needs. Additionally, National Fund investment can go directly to training and services built on the public workforce system foundation.

For example, with the Good Companies @ Work grant, 100% of the funding we received from the National Fund was sub-awarded to our employer partners. We initially built our relationships with these employers by working with them through the federal labor exchange and WIOA employer services. Investments from the National Fund have helped us expand our offerings to employers to include job quality programs.

There are challenges when funding comes in on a project-to-project basis, rather than annually allocated or guaranteed. Long-term projects (2+ years) are harder to come by. Additionally, as new grant opportunities emerge, they may have a different focus or different reporting requirements, depending on the funder.

How are employers investing in the work?

Employers are at the center of what we do. The demand-driven system we have built requires strong employer engagement and trust. Through contracts or MOUs with employers, we outline specific investment and reporting requirements. For example, we require a minimum of 50% investment from employers on any project we fund, but oftentimes employers contribute far above 50%. Other requirements we put in place for employers include participation in webinars, peer-learning, and travel to in-person meetings.

What keeps funders engaged in the collaborative? How important is the co-investment model to your success? Is it seen as a strategy to reach scale?

Funders remain engaged due to the outcomes PACES produces. We provide formal reports to funders quarterly, or as requested by each funder. Additionally, the opportunity to innovate and access the National Fund network of technical support and experts and receive grant funding are also important when engaging our funders.

The co-investment model is also pivotal, as funders want to be able to invest in programs where their funds will be leveraged for greater impact.

They can see that the grantees have a vested interest in the program’s success because employers are contributing their own funds as well.

What advice would you give to other communities interested in diversifying the types of resources they leverage?  

Here are three pieces of advice:

  • Work with your local workforce development board!
  • Collaborate to build or grow existing programs instead of duplicating what might already be in existence.
  • Invest time in building relationships.


Learn more about co-investment in other collaboratives in the National Fund network: CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance, Workforce Solutions Collaborative of Metro Hartford, and West AlabamaWorks!


PACES (Preparation for Aviation/Advanced Career Employment System) works to prepare central Kansas’s manufacturing and aviation workforce by investing in high demand skills and working with local employers to prepare individuals for work in manufacturing, aviation and health care. PACES is funded through a regional funding collaborative of local philanthropy working together to strengthen and expand workforce partnerships in the region. The mission of PACES is to create a more accessible and flexible employment and training system to move both unemployed and underemployed workers into high-demand and high-skill careers in the aviation, health care, and advanced manufacturing industries.