Workforce Collaboratives Are Helping the Service Sector Rebuild

With a clear value proposition, collaboratives demonstrate a range of ways to help both businesses and frontline workers succeed in these challenging times

Employers in many service industries — including food service, education, transportation and logistics, and hospitality — are understandably frustrated by the labor market these days. To grow your business, you need people, but many workers have retired, moved on to new careers, or gone back to school. Many more are reluctant to come back thanks to the continuing challenges created by COVID-19. Meanwhile, the remaining “essential workers” in those industries, who early in the pandemic were lionized as heroes, are overwhelmed by customer demands, and frustrated by challenges such as health and safety concerns, low compensation, and limited growth opportunities.

Photo by Timothy Barlin on Unsplash

These challenges are fundamentally about job quality. The National Fund has been advancing job quality strategies for more than a decade, starting with healthcare employers, and the practitioners in our network are uniquely positioned to help both employers and workers address these challenges to make jobs better.

That’s why we launched a service sector learning lab to support the network in rebuilding this key sector. Over the course of eight sessions, practitioners from across the network tested new ideas and crafted a vision for what an inclusive, thriving service sector looks like in their communities. The learning lab worked with collaboratives to develop tools and strategies to engage service sector employers on issues of job quality, racial equity and inclusion, and adjusting to the post-pandemic economy.

The thing is, workforce leaders will never get far with employers if they can’t articulate how they can help. So we led a learning lab activity for participants to explain their collaborative’s value to service sector employers. Using this template developed by Strategyzer, the lab participants workshopped their value proposition:


Our  [products or services]  help  [customer]  who wants  [job to be done]  by  [addressing customer pain]  and  [resulting customer gain]  (unlike  [competing value proposition] ).

Both creative and varied, participants’ responses demonstrate a range of ways that workforce collaboratives help both business partners and frontline workers succeed in these challenging times. Here are some examples:

Demystify job search trends among potential candidates
Kentuckiana Workforce Partners in Louisville


“Our labor market intelligence helps hospitality employers who want to find and hire
hospitality champions by demystifying job search trends among potential candidates
and increasing awareness of talent pools primed to transition into hospitality
(unlike job search services based outside of our region).”


In Louisville, National Fund collaborative Kentuckiana Workforce Partners helps hospitality employers understand the signals from the local labor market. This is especially needed in the service sector right now, because so many workers dropped out of the workforce due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kentuckiana Workforce Partners used the learning lab to help understand why a pre-pandemic hospitality employer group never got off the ground. “This exercise helped me realize that our messaging/purpose for the group could have been better at first,” said Aleece Smith, who heads Kentuckiana Workforce Partners. “What we are really good at is helping them turn labor market data into labor market intelligence, especially compared to services that are not as deeply embedded in our region.” 

Co-create programs to address employment priorities
Partner4Work in Pittsburgh


“Our financial services industry partnership helps member employers who want to
eliminate racial inequities and improve job quality by co-creating programs targeted
to address workforce priorities
and amplifying worker voice (unlike the former
“train and pray” approach to workforce development


The financial services sector in Pittsburgh is expected to grow dramatically over the next ten years. Partner4Work, the region’s Workforce Investment Board, wanted to ensure that this growth also leads to good jobs with a racial equity lens. So they established a financial services industry partnership to solve shared problems.

Their value proposition articulates how their industry partnership helps employers who want to eliminate racial inequities and improve job quality. Having worker voice is a key component of their value proposition ensures that workforce interventions create good jobs for workers and improved business outcomes for employers.

Help employees succeed at work by overcoming barriers
New Orleans Works


“Our New Orleans Workforce Innovations Program helps employers who want to
mitigate their workers’ barriers by providing post-hire supports to reduce
worker turnover and
increasing product
ivity by enhancing the health and
wellbeing of their workforce
through connections to local resources (unlike a
traditional employee assistance program


While debates rage on social media about why people aren’t getting back to work, barriers such as low wages, inconsistent scheduling, lack of child care, transportation challenges, the “benefits cliff,” and more have bogged down the service sector for years. These issues were only compounded by pandemic, and many workers are still reasonably concerned about the continued health risks associated with working many frontline service sector jobs.

 Employers are too often unaware of how deeply these barriers impact their current workforce and the labor pool. They usually try to address problems like these through employee assistance programs (EAPs), but these are notoriously underutilized, either because staff don’t trust them, or they don’t understand how they work.

New Orleans Works know how to address that issue — to help both for workers and employers — by connecting workers to great support systems that complement employee assistance programs because they are built around trusted community-based organizations.

One of the main lessons we at the National Fund took away from these value propositions – as well as those from the other 14 sites in our learning lab – is that our site directors and their team members are social entrepreneurs. There is a tremendous amount of need for support right now from service sector businesses, and National Fund collaboratives are stepping up to the plate, with variety, inventiveness, and understanding of their communities. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how workforce organizations can better partner with service companies, and we expect to see much more in the months and years to come.

Caroline Corona and Tom Strong

-- Program Associate and Director of Employer Activation, National Fund for Workforce Solutions