Attend to needs of
underqualified adults in quest to fill workforce skills gap
A Civic Caucus
Human Capital Interview October 3, 2014
John Adams, Paul Gilje
(executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Bryan Lindsley,
Dan Lortiz (chair), Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder. By phone: Dave Broden
(vice chair), Clarence Shallbetter.
According to Bryan
Lindsley, philanthropic collaborative MSPWin focuses on changing the
workforce development system, with the goal of dramatically increasing
the number of adults, especially those of color, aged 18 to 64,
earning family-sustaining wages. Lindsley believes Minnesota will not
be able to close the approaching skills gap, forecast to start in
2020, without focusing on adults already in or capable of being in the
labor force. He emphasizes that this group should also include the
unemployed and those not participating in the labor force, who often
are not counted when we're looking at whether we will have enough
Concentrating on those adults will have the
greatest impact on the size and quality of the state's workforce, he
notes, since 73 percent of the people in Minnesota's workforce today
will still be working in 2030. Attention to this demographic is
particularly important because about half of our current workforce has
no postsecondary credential or industry certification, which is
increasingly key to employability.
For Minnesota to solve the state's
human-capital problem, Lindsley suggests that the following goals, all
focused on the adult population, must be met: (1) Many more
postsecondary students completing remedial classes, accumulating
credits and graduating with a degree, a diploma or a certificate; (2)
More adults completing skills training that leads to family-sustaining
wages through programs teaching basic and occupational skills while
offering support services; and (3) Developing outcome reporting and
evaluation to allow evidence-based decision-making to determine which
components of various workforce programs are effective.
Bryan Lindsley is executive
director of the Minneapolis St. Paul Regional Workforce Innovation
Network (MSPWin), a collaborative of local and national foundations
seeking to ensure that the Twin Cities region develops the skilled and
diverse workforce needed for continued economic competitiveness. One
of MSPWin's main objectives is to eliminate racial employment
disparities and create career pathways for low-skilled, low-income
adults to access family-sustaining jobs.
Lindsley came to MSPWin in 2013, after four
years as executive director of the Governor's Workforce Development
Council. Prior to that, he was a policy analyst, employment counselor
and research consultant. He has a bachelor's degree in social justice
from St. Olaf College and a master's of public policy from the
Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. He
is an alumnus of the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute.
As part of its current focus on
Minnesota's competitiveness, the Civic Caucus invited Bryan Lindsley
to discuss the work of MSPWin in helping to resolve the state's
current and future human-capital challenges, especially the predicted
shortage by 2020 of workers to fill available jobs.
MSPWin was founded in
2013, as a philanthropic collaborative of 10 foundations and the
United Way, who wanted to improve human-capital development in the
Minneapolis Saint Paul region. The funders are Bush Foundation, F.
R. Bigelow Foundation, Greater Twin Cities United Way, The Jay and
Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, The Joyce Foundation,
The McKnight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, Northwest Area
Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation, The St. Paul Foundation and Wells
According to Bryan Lindsley of MSPWin, all
of the funders have been donating separately to workforce development
programs and initiatives for a number of years, investing roughly $10
million to $15 million per year. In forming MSPWin, he said, the
funders decided to pool some of their resources together, over and
above what they were already doing, to make a greater impact on the
workforce development system.
The purpose of pooling their efforts is not
just to change how they're investing their $10 million to $15 million,
he said. Rather, it's to influence the system of federal and state
spending in human-capital development, including the Department of
Employment and Economic Development (DEED), adult basic education, the
Departments of Education and Human Services and the community college
system. Not counting the community college system, that spending
amounts to about $300 million a year. When you add in higher
education, Lindsley said, the investment in workforce development is
about $1 billion a year.
MSPWin's formation relates to the same human
capital needs the Civic Caucus identified in its September 2014
Capital: Minnesota's Strength and Challenge."
Lindsley summarized the need: "As we're going now, we don't have
enough skilled workers in our labor force." He said MSPWin funders
share the perspective that to have a prosperous state, (1) we need a
very highly competitive workforce, where businesses have the skilled
workers they need to compete; and (2) more adults, especially people
of color, need the opportunity to gain employment and reach
MSPWin focuses on changing the workforce
development system, with the goal of dramatically increasing the
number of adults aged 18 to 64, especially people of color, earning
family-sustaining wages. Lindsley said the organization
focuses its specific investments on the seven-county metro area, but
all of its policy work has a statewide focus.
MSPWin itself is making investments of about
$1 million a year. "It's not about the amount of money we have,"
Lindsley said. "It's about the amount of influence." He said the
grants MSPWin gives are for pilot efforts getting at solving the
human-capital problem that could be scaled up and applied across the
When MSPWin was formed, people didn't know
the scope of the problem of disparities in the workforce. Lindsley
noted that DEED recently reported that the average unemployment rate
for African Americans in Minnesota between 2008 and 2012 (15 percent)
was roughly double that for whites (7.7 percent). Nationally, the gap
was significantly smaller: 14.1 percent to 10.2 percent.
MSPWin has been working with Wilder Research
to develop data on what it would take to close this disparity,
Lindsley said. For example, in the metro area in 2012, 23,306 more
adults of color aged 25 to 44 would need to have been employed to
close the employment disparity between whites and people of color. He
said MSPWin has demographic data on what county people live in, their
education level, their race and employment trends since 2006.
An important part of MSPWin's work is policy
change. Lindsley said the group had two policy recommendations
that passed the 2014 Legislature:
Standard outcome reporting
: a pre-program and
post-program analysis looking at the impact a program is having. He
said workforce training programs, basic skills training, programs
and higher education all track different things. Most track and
report employment and wage outcomes, but not in the context of who
is participating in the program. For example, if a program reports
that 90 percent of the people coming into a program completed it and
are making $12 an hour, it makes a difference if the people in the
program were college graduates or people without high school
Net impact evaluation
, which uses rigorous economic
analysis to figure the impact of the program on a person being
trained versus what the outcome would have been for a similar person
not in the program. This approach is similar to medical studies,
which use a treatment group and a control group.
MSPWin also works on engagement by holding
events around these types of issues.
Ten of the funders working together through
MSPWin have representatives on the board and each of them gets a voice
in deciding the investments the group makes and the policy change it
promotes. "We work hard to get everyone on the same page,"
Lindsley said, "because all of us share a commitment to influencing
more than just the spending we're doing, but to really get to systemic
The Civic Caucus human capital statement
identified the central problem as a coming shortage of people with the
appropriate skills at all levels of employment. Lindsley agreed
with that assessment and said people who might help fill that gap can
be divided into three groups:
Traditional students coming out of the K-12 pipeline, although
that group is getting smaller and smaller as we approach zero
labor-market growth by 2020.
People in the workforce here through attraction and retention,
that is, those people who come to the state for jobs and then stay.
Lindsley doesn't think the attraction/retention strategy will play
as large a part in filling the gap as other strategies.
Adults ages 18 to 64 who are already in or capable of being in
the labor force. Lindsley said that this group should include the
unemployed and those not participating in the labor force, who often
are not counted when we're looking at whether we have enough skilled
workers. He said 73 percent of the people in Minnesota's workforce
today will still be working in 2030. About half of our current
workforce lacks any postsecondary credential or industry
certification. Lindsley thinks this is the segment that should have
the greater emphasis.
"You can't close the gap without looking at
adults already in the labor force," Lindsley said.
There's no strategy in place for meeting
Minnesota's human capital needs. Lindsley agreed with that
conclusion from the Civic Caucus human capital statement. He said the
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MnSCU) and the
University of Minnesota have worked to align their curriculums to
workforce needs by producing higher skilled workers. "But there's not
enough attention on strategies for low-skilled adults already in the
labor force," he said. "The reason there's no strategy is that no one
has outlined a vision to say 'We should do this, we can do this and
we're going to do this.'"
Thirty-one percent to 55 percent of adults
in the labor force have not reached the "tipping point." Lindsley
said these people, who lack a minimum of one year of postsecondary
education and an industry-recognized credential, won't be able to be
self-sufficient in the labor market or attached in the long term.
National research suggests that Minnesotans need to reach this
educational tipping point to get a good job.
A focus on equity is very important for
competitiveness in Minnesota. A recent report from
Lindsley said, declared that worsening inequality in wealth and income
is limiting our economic growth as a country. "Unless we deal with
that in some way, we'll be limiting our state's economic
competitiveness," he said. "MSPWin believes racial inequality and
income inequality must be addressed, if we're interested in Minnesota
being as competitive as it needs to be."
If we're looking for systemic change in
Minnesota, a lot of policy has said we need to invest in people all
along the entire age spectrum. "I think it's true we need to
invest in early education and do better in our K-12 system," Lindsley
said. "But there are a lot of adults of labor-market age who are
low-skilled, but could benefit from skills training and boost our
state's competitiveness. We need more systemic change that focuses on
adults, especially since the average adult is in the labor market for
There is a lot of good workforce programming
in Minnesota, but there is also room for improvement. Lindsley
said there are good training models that provide basic skills
education, such as literacy and math, at the same time as occupational
skill training. By combining those two at the same time, research has
shown completion rates to be much higher. He said an important third
component is providing support services at the same time.
The single biggest way postsecondary
education can become more efficient is by graduating many more
students. Lindsley said at MnSCU two-year schools, only 51 percent
of the students graduate or transfer within three years. "That's
inefficient and I believe we can do better," he said.
Several forces could help advance the issue
of human capital on the public agenda:
According to Lindsley, a lot of workforce training, whether in
colleges or not, produces a big return on investment (ROI) for the
state from more adults paying taxes, reduced need for food stamps
and social services, and more employers getting the workers they
need. He said we need more information in this area to "make the
case" for valuable skills training.
There is agreement among governors across the country that our
states need to be competitive and that we need everyone in our labor
force to be skilled. "We can't forget about adults who are not in
the labor market or don't have skills desired by employers, because
that will end up hurting our competitiveness in the long run,"
Higher education could be more efficient, he said. Too much
public and student money goes toward unfinished credentials, leaving
large numbers of students struggling to pay off student debt without
a good job or sufficient income.
The role of job-placement organizations
increasingly should be as facilitators for job seekers. "Too many
job-training participants get no occupational skills training at all,"
Lindsley said. "Often they are only learning soft-level skills on how
to search for a job. Although soft skills are important, we need to
train more people with the basic skills and the occupational skills to
actually do jobs. The role of workforce development is to 'develop the
workforce' by ensuring that we have a more highly skilled workforce
than when we started."
Thinking Minnesota is doing so well is one
of our biggest barriers to better addressing the human-capital issue.
Lindsley asserted that many states that have made the most progress on
innovative reforms in higher education are southern states, because it
is widely recognized by all that they have problems. "We have a
generally high-performing education system here," he said, "but we
want to make sure that we improve." Minnesota's strong overall high
school graduation rate, he said, hides that certain groups of students
only have a 50-percent rate, while our low unemployment rate masks the
problems of people who are not participating in the labor force.
Little attention is paid to the actual
outcomes of workforce programs. Lindsley said we should be asking
whether a program creates value to business, to individuals and to the
state, in terms of return on investment of tax resources. When asked
by an interviewer what workforce program excites him, Lindsley said
career pathways programs like Minnesota FastTRAC (see
The best way for the business community to
help solve human-capital needs is through ongoing, long-term
partnerships. Lindsley pointed to the partnership of businesses
developed in the Indianapolis region, Partners for a Competitive
When employers are working together,
Lindsley said, they can get to questions of where they have skill
needs and where value is created for them. That can drive
conversations with MnSCU, for example, about aligning training to
The mismatch between where people live and
where the jobs are is a big concern. Lindsley believes
skill-training programs must address transportation, housing and child
care at the same time as participants are learning basic skills and
There are a number of ideas, all focused on
the adult population, for solutions to the human-capital problem.
Lindsley was quick to point out that MSPWin has not yet endorsed the
following ideas, since the organization has not yet approved its
policy recommendations for 2015. But in order to accomplish
MSPWin's mission of dramatically increasing the number of adults,
especially those of color, earning a living wage, Lindsley said
several goals must be met:
Many more adults completing high-quality career pathways that
lead to family-sustaining wages.
Support for a variety of career
pathways programs that provide training in basic skills and
occupational skills, along with support services, should be
expanded, Lindsley said.
Many more postsecondary students completing remediation,
accumulating credits and graduating with a degree, a diploma or a
Lindsley said that can be increased dramatically
through things like co-requisite remediation, where students take
remediation, that is, basic-skills classes, along with for-credit
classes; and guided pathways to success, where students are able to
choose an entire academic pathway, instead of random individual
Developing a broad bucket of evidence-based decision-making for
workforce and postsecondary programs.
That requires continuing
support for standard-outcome reporting and evaluation, Lindsley
said. Different programs have different strong points and we should
look at what components of various programs are effective, rather
than looking at whether one whole program is better than another
one. Evaluation that can be used in decision-making also includes
things like measuring how many students enrolling at MnSCU are
finishing or how many are completing remediation courses.
The forecast that Minnesota won't have
enough people needed to fill the jobs that will be available doesn't
take into account the large number of people who are already here but
aren't recognized as participating in the workforce. An
interviewer asked if in-migration might help solve the shortage.
Lindsley responded that some people who are migrating in to Minnesota
are not participating in the labor force. We're not doing as well as
we could with those who are in-migrating now, he said, so to think we
could just depend on more in-migration to resolve the shortage is
probably not realistic.
There's no vision or strategy for doing
better to solve the human-capital issue. "I haven't seen the
leaders say, 'I have a commitment to solving the human-capital or
disparity issue.' Good leadership could go a long way towards cajoling
people and institutions to take on this issue."
It will take nontraditional alliances to
move forward these human-capital issues. "A lot of these issues
are very controversial and some people within the systems don't really
want to deal with them," Lindsley concluded. "Luckily, a wide variety
of people and organizations, including the Civic Caucus, want more to
be done. By working together, positive change is possible."
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman