Reintroducing Our Job Design Framework

Equity and voice must be part of the job quality strategy — our new framework has both


How do you design a good job?

Most people don’t think about that question very often, if at all — even business owners. At the National Fund, we think about it a lot. In fact, we see it as fundamental to our work and to that of every workforce development organization and employer in our network.

Every job is designed, intentionally or not. The National Fund asserts that companies should bring the same intelligence, creativity, and purpose to job design as they do to product design. An economy built around well-designed jobs has positive ripple effects and contributes to our vision of an equitable future where workers, employers, and communities are thriving and prosperous.

Our Job Design Framework is the tool we use to help our network understand job quality. Originally conceived by former National Fund Senior Advisor Steven Dawson and published in the 2017 Pinkerton Papers, the framework has been central to advancing our job quality work for the past several years. During that time, we have seen many more sites in our network take up the effort, and we have learned a lot. We are excited to announce that we have updated the framework to more useful and better aligned with the challenges and opportunities of job quality.

We’ve made two main changes to the framework. First, we’ve added a literal frame of racial equity and inclusion. If you’ve been following us for a while, it should come as no surprise that we view racial equity and inclusion as absolutely critical to the mission of workforce development. However, there was no reference to it in the Job Design Framework, and we realized that was a big missing piece.

There are two important reasons we must consider racial equity and job quality together. First, it is entirely possible — even common — for an employer to be lauded as a “great place to work” despite a lack of diversity or a pattern of relegating people of color to the lowest-wage positions. This happens because employee engagement and satisfaction are typically measured through surveys that only account for diversity, equity, and inclusion through surface-level measures.

Want to know what we mean by “worker voice?” Check out our definition.

Moreover, it is also possible for a workplace to demonstrate both job quality and diversity, equity, and inclusion, but only for employees at higher levels of the hierarchy. Companies that outsource much of their front-line labor, such as in the case of the “gig economy,” are particularly at risk for this phenomenon. These companies can appear to be great places to work and highly diverse and equitable — but the primary workforce and/or supply chain tell a different story.

The second change we made to the Job Design Framework was to add a new pillar for worker voice. The original framework had three pillars, each of which groups together a related collection of job characteristics: foundational (now renamed “core”), support, and opportunity:

  • Core pillar includes items that are absolutely foundational to any good job: pay, benefits, safety, communication, and so forth
  • Support pillar includes systems that help workers succeed on the job and achieve stability in their lives
  • Opportunity pillar includes supports to help people build their skills, advance their careers, and create more value in their work
  • Voice pillar includes ways workers can be engaged, empowered, and have more agency in their workplace

Some of the job characteristics listed under voice were previously part of the opportunity pillar, but we realized that we needed to separate them and put them in their own pillar. In the new version, the Opportunity pillar is about workforce development — how individuals train and advance in their careers — whereas the voice pillar is about workplace development.

Matthew Fieldman of America Works recently wrote, “Workplace development is the new workforce development.” Building great workplaces is a strategy, not an accident of circumstance. Racial equity, worker voice, and inclusion must be central to that strategy.

Our hope is the new Job Design Framework will be a starting point for building workplaces where every employee feels empowered, engaged, and has a sense of optimism for the future. Ultimately, workplaces are where the mission of workforce development is realized.

Tom Strong

-- Director of Employer Activation, National Fund for Workforce Solutions