Job Quality Is More Important Than Ever

In less than a decade, the National Fund has built a national movement around the practice of job quality

It Starts With A Question

In 2012, hospitals and large healthcare systems were asking a simple question: “Why are frontline workers leaving their jobs, even for a very small salary increase?” A couple of years later, other industries would follow with their own, related question: “Is the skills gap still the biggest reason we can’t find the right talent?”

Back then, who would have guessed that these questions would ultimately create a movement that spurred over $14 million in investments to improve job quality across a broad range of industries?

Around that time, our network of regional workforce funder collaboratives were noticing declining enrollment in job training programs and lower job placement rates. They attributed part of it to the general recovery from the 2008 recession — people were working again and not looking for additional training. But that didn’t explain why people who were being trained for specific industry skills were turning down job offers. We wondered what was going on. Was it a skills problem or a wage problem? Were the wages — even for “in-demand occupations” — too low for workers to bother? Meanwhile, our CareerSTAT peer-learning network was quickly identifying practices to support and advance frontline workers into the critical middle-skill positions that health systems struggled to fill — and at the same time deliver better care and outcomes for their patients.

At the National Fund’s annual convening in 2014, we brought our network together for a discussion around these issues, led by Matt Bruce from Chicago, Jenny Riggenbach — then with the Central Wisconsin collaborative — and me. Mark Popovich, at the time with the Hitachi Foundation and now at the Aspen Institute, sat in on the discussion and mentioned his research profiling 100 companies who redesigned their jobs to improve working conditions for their employees — and reaped business benefits in the process. At that same convening, Zeynep Ton delivered a plenary talk about her new book, The Good Jobs Strategy.

We began to connect the dots, accelerating the National Fund’s journey to good jobs.

With seed funding from the Hitachi Foundation, later supplemented with investments from several other foundations (Prudential, Walmart, Joyce, Lumina), the National Fund supported 13 of our workforce funder collaboratives and CareerSTAT to help 89 employers improve the quality of their jobs for thousands of workers. The healthcare employers participating in the CareerSTAT Workforce Development Academy employ over 160,000 workers, and CareerSTAT’s frontline worker champion program has recognized over 50 healthcare employers for improving frontline worker jobs.

Learning and Sharing What Works

We have leveraged the experience of our nationwide innovation and implementation network to develop a set of tools to assist our other collaboratives and galvanize the workforce development field around job quality. The cornerstone of our strategy to make jobs better is the Job Design Framework. We know that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. That’s why our framework provides a menu of options for employers to consider as they redesign better jobs. The Competency Guide is aimed at practitioners to build strong teams to work on job quality. We have also published a paper to help practitioners work through resistance from employers who are hesitant to tackle job quality issues.

To implement elements of the Job Design Framework, we have developed a financial wellness guide for employers to assess and select programs that help employees increase their financial stability and mobility. And the CareerSTAT Resource Center presents tools, case studies, and other resources related to more than two dozen best practices for investing in frontline workers. The National Fund also nurtures an active and robust job quality community of practice to share insights, successes, and challenges, foster peer learning, and deepen impact.

And just this week we have published a set of four learning reports that capture the key insights from the job quality work of our collaboratives:

The Current Crises and the Future of Job Quality

And we have only just begun.

As our country responds to the current health, economic, and racial justice crises, we are helping our collaboratives across our network to create recovery plans that will redesign their local economies to be more inclusive and create economy-boosting jobs.

We have established a strategic priority to create good quality jobs, with a goal to increase the number of employers working on job quality by 50%. Additional funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Prudential Financial, and Walmart Foundations will help us get there. Importantly, these investments will allow us to double the number of communities in our network that are addressing racial inequities. Black people and people of color are overrepresented in low-wage, low-quality jobs. These workers need better support and better opportunities. A diverse, engaged, and well-supported workforce creates a competitive advantage. Good jobs must be at the center of our efforts to recover from these crises and redesign for a more resilient future with thriving communities and an economy rooted in the well-being of all.

Janice Urbanik

-- Senior Director for Innovation and Strategy, National Fund for Workforce Solutions