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 Donny Jones of West AlabamaWorks! highlights the unique strategies for co-investment in West Alabama. This conversation was edited for brevity.
What does co-investment look like in West Alabama?
One thing that makes us a little different is that we’re actually codified in the state legislature as the regional workforce board, covering nine counties and 7,500 square miles. We braid federal and state dollars with private investment from industry partners and organizations like the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). Also, our operations and some projects are funded legislatively by the state. We have found that using multiple sources of funding generates greater impact.
Tell us about your collaborative’s funding model and the types of resources that you’re leveraging in the West Alabama region. How much is pooled vs. aligned funding?
Since we’re the workforce system for the region, there isn’t a differentiation between pooled and aligned funding. Our funding comes from three sources: government, private funding, and grants from partners like the National Fund. Roughly $250,000-$300,000 comes from the state for operations, and we receive about that same amount for our programs from private industry. Our WIOA budget was $4-6 million in 2019, which is invested back into job seekers across the region; the regional workforce board determines who receives funding. We also have a $50,000 grant from the National Fund and two grants from ARC. Diversifying our funding helps us serve more individuals.
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?
The challenges and benefits of blended funding are almost identical. Some of the benefits result from being a process-oriented workforce system, rather than a program-based organization. For example, our partners with youth contracts at career centers must develop a comprehensive overall plan. Additionally, anyone involved in our youth services uses our Ready To Work program, even if they’re not a grantee. There are also certain processes for our Worlds of Work expos as well. However, when you have am array of partners, sometimes you find yourself a mile wide and an inch deep. We try not to let that happen but making sure all the balls are in the air all the time can be challenging.
How are employers investing in the work?
A great example is our Worlds of Work event. Over 150 employers and 5,300 students attended WOW in 2019. Our industry partners showcased approximately $13 million of equipment at the expo. When employers see that our processes help our region’s children, they’re inclined to give back. They not only give to Worlds of Work philanthropically, but they engage with us daily in our industry cluster work, create apprenticeship programs, and support career technical education. Over 300 industries are engaged in our process.
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?
Bottom line, it’s all about results – how many people we’re helping and how many industries are growing. We’re not put in this position as a feel-good organization. Co-investment allows us to move the needle more efficiently and deliver programs with substance. That’s key in rural Alabama because we have some of the poorest counties in the nation. In West Alabama, we have more job opportunities than people to fill them. If you take our 2.7% unemployment for the entire region, that’s only about 6,000 people. Five companies in Tuscaloosa have more open jobs than that right now. So, it’s imperative to make sure we’re reaching every person that we possibly can.
Strategy is key. With our position as the regional workforce board, we’re able to command a seat at the table for our partners. Our industry-driven model is something that separates us from a lot of our counterparts. Whereas they see the job seeker as the customer, we see the employer as the customer. We find that makes a much bigger difference in those job seekers’ ability to find a good job with a living wage.
Co-investment is absolutely a strategy to reach scale. The only way that we’re able to provide opportunity for the over 17,000 people we served since our inception is through co-investment. No one source of revenue can sustain a program. Everything that we’re doing is built on sustainability – to make sure that, long term, we can help people find the jobs they need with livable wages.
What advice would you give to other communities interested in diversifying the types of resources they leverage?
Understand all the resources available and work collaboratively. If all of our partners engaged in this work align, then we’re not fighting for the same dollars. Everybody is on the same page and understands their role. We’ve helped everyone understand the importance of asking, “What can I bring to the table? How can I make a bigger impact?” Now, we can integrate more partners, working together on supportive services such as childcare or transportation. Co-investment is a vital part of everything we do because it allows communities to have greater impact.
Learn more about co-investment in other collaboratives in the National Fund network: CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance, PACES (Preparation for Advanced Career Employment System), Workforce Solutions Collaborative of Metro Hartford
ABOUT WEST ALABAMAWORKS!
West AlabamaWorks! is a joint initiative developed by the Region 3 Workforce Development Council and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama working to improve workforce development efforts throughout West Alabama. With a mission to promote economic prosperity and employment throughout West Alabama, West AlabamaWorks! supports businesses in finding talented workers and helps workers in developing new skills and careers. West AlabamaWorks! serves as the region’s central hub for workforce development efforts and training.