12/20/2012 04:44 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

How to Improve Outcomes for Opportunity Youth: Engage Employers to Invest in What Works, Part 2

Proven Principles of Workforce Training Reform

It's clear the federal government has a critical role to play in the economic recovery by investing in workforce training programs that work. We need to be more strategic about how and where we make these investments for maximum impact.

We represent effective enterprising pathways programs that are highly successful because they do the hard work of connecting talent with employers' needs. In our work, we have identified four principles to guide workforce training reform and to ensure that positive outcomes are created for young people, businesses, and the public.

1. Tie Funding to Outcomes - It is crucial that public money be invested in programs that produce results. Embracing market principles in the workforce training system will help ensure that taxpayer money is spent on programs that produce maximum impact for their students and trainees.
• Increasing the ability of organizations with proven positive outcomes to access federal funding across states should be a priority as the administration works to improve the workforce training system.

• Ensuring that eligibility for public funding is prioritized on producing results will help successful operators to scale while enhancing the return on public investment for taxpayers - and will help more individuals and employers to attain the outcomes they're looking for.

2. Engage Employers to Increase Opportunities - Any program that seeks to train people to (re)enter the workforce should work directly with employers to identify the positions and skills that are in highest demand in the local market. Government investments alone cannot boost outcomes for our training programs without committed and strong employer partners. The federal government has an important role to play by providing the services and incentives needed to engage employers in this process in a way that is lasting and impactful.

3. Think Holistically about Education, Private Partners, Workforce Organizations, and Employers - Improving the ties between employers, the workforce training system, and postsecondary schools is essential to closing the skills gap. More than 60% of jobs will require some postsecondary training by 2018, but less than 20% of individuals pursuing an Associate's degree graduate within three years. At many postsecondary institutions, partnerships with local employers seeking to fill entry-level positions are minimal or non-existent, so that even individuals who graduate often have trouble starting a career.

Enterprising pathways operating largely outside the current publicly funded system (e.g. social enterprises, for-profit postsecondary institutions, employer-housed training programs, etc.) can help to spur improved outcomes across the system. These organizations are flexible by nature and serve as laboratories of innovation, and consequently often produce a higher return on investment for individuals, businesses, and taxpayers. By empowering them to work with partners across sectors as well as employers, the federal government can realize a large return on its workforce training investment.

4. Direct Human Capital Investments to Emphasize Accountability - Any efforts to reform and align the postsecondary and workforce systems should be strategically focused on maximizing existing resources to make them more impactful. If invested wisely, existing funding streams have the potential to significantly boost employment among Opportunity Youth.

Our workforce and postsecondary training systems currently suffer from an emphasis on inputs (i.e. individuals served) over outcomes (i.e. graduates employed in good jobs they were trained for, one year after completion). As a result, surprisingly little is known about the return on public investment in postsecondary and workforce training:

• Although 40% of all college students - and higher proportions of minorities - are attending part-time, the federal government does not track their success or factor them into its reports of graduation rates.
• Of the forty-seven programs that constitute the federal workforce training system, only five have been evaluated for impact since 2004.

Tracking the success and impact of public investments through improved collection of data and evaluation of outcomes is a key element of creating a smarter investment portfolio for the next administration.

In our final entry, we'll identify some immediate opportunities for the administration to enact changes that reflect these principles to improve outcomes.

For More Information, Contact:
Shawn Bohen, National Director of Strategic Growth & Impact at Year Up,
Elyse Rosenblum, Senior Consultant to Corporate Voices for Working Families,