Shifting From Any Job to Job Quality: Innovating Workforce Development for Today’s Economy

With a new Administration and the 115th Congress in place, America Forward remains committed to championing innovative, effective, and efficient solutions to our most pressing social problems. Through our Coalition of more than 70 social innovation organizations, America Forward will continue to advance our collective priorities in the areas of education, workforce development, early learning, poverty alleviation, public health, Pay for Success, social innovation, national service, and criminal justice reform. Today, Jerry Rubin, President and CEO of America Forward Coalition Member, JVS Boston, the largest workforce development agency in New England, highlights the work JVS is doing in the workforce development space to enable individual job seekers to enter and exit a continuum of services that strengthen their skills, allowing them to move up into better quality jobs. 

Workforce development has traditionally focused on providing individuals with education, skills and opportunities to secure employment. With the unemployment rate on a steady decline and income inequality reaching historic proportions, we have arrived at an important inflection point for the workforce development field. Job quality – the combination of wages, hours, and benefits – is now more important of a goal for the field than employment alone. Improving job quality is an employer-based intervention that requires contextualized knowledge of industry hiring and training needs, along with a talent pipeline to fill vacancies throughout the employment hierarchy.

In Massachusetts, the healthcare industry accounts for nearly half of the state’s 50 largest employers. The healthcare industry is key to Massachusetts’s economy and labor force, already employing over 172,000 people across the state, and is expected to grow within the next decade. For JVS Boston, the largest workforce development agency in New England, deep relationships with employer partners in the healthcare industry are leading to innovations in job quality and career ladder opportunities for both job seekers and incumbent workers.

JVS’s model of “getting in and moving up” enables individual job seekers to enter and exit a continuum of services that strengthen their skills, allowing them to move up into better quality jobs. This model forms the foundation of JVS’s Healthcare Training Institute (HTI), a workplace education partnership that brings together healthcare employers in the Greater Boston area to identify and address workforce development needs. Launched in 2008, the HTI has grown into a network of 15 employers that informed and sponsored training for over 750 employees last year. The HTI has fostered deep relationships between JVS and healthcare employers, which have led to two innovation programs that built career pipelines for entry-level healthcare jobs.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Career Ladder
Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) form the foundation of the long-term care workforce, both in institutional settings such as nursing homes, and through home care agencies. While CNAs have one of the most physically and emotionally challenging jobs, the position is typically not well compensated. In the workforce development field, the CNA is often seen as a “dead-end” job, with little opportunity for career ladders and improvements in job quality. In addition, few CNAs successfully move to hospitals where compensation and overall job quality is more accessible than in the long-term care industry.

JVS is partnering with several employers to creatively open new opportunities for CNAs career ladder strategies. One employer, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) recently partnered with JVS on a pilot training program to upskill CNAs for the hospital setting, in order to place trainees into hard-to-fill Patient Care Technician (PCT) positions. This program hires individuals with direct care experience, such as CNAs and Medical Assistants and trains them for PCT roles, a critical role for hospital operations.

Patient Transport, Environmental Services and Dietary Services Career Ladders
Hospital jobs in patient transport, environmental services and dietary services support daily hospital operations, yet employees who fill these roles have limited access to job upgrades. In the Boston area, most workers in these roles are English language learners, often have limited education beyond high school, and rarely have well developed professional skills. While these entry-level workers lack career ladder opportunities, human resources teams are scrambling to fill next-level roles like Administrative Associates, Patient Experience Representatives and Clinical Assistants. JVS is partnering with Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) to create a career ladder initiative to address and overcome barriers to job upgrades for incumbent workers.

BCH’s “Career Development Training Program” is a systems-based approach that seeks to get incumbent workers in entry-level service jobs hired into career ladder positions within the hospital, as well as to provide vetted and trained job seekers to fill their vacated positions. To date, BCH’s incumbent workers have been recruited for the program, completed career-readiness training, and have moved on to career coaching and job shadowing. Once trainees complete the program and fill next-level vacancies, the “pre-employment training component” of the program will begin and job seekers will receive intensive and contextualized training to fill these entry level positions.

Looking Forward
Preliminary outcomes from both career pipeline programs are encouraging. The pilot CNA program hired and trained 16 individuals and JVS referred a majority of the training cohort. Trainees referred by JVS achieved an average 70% pay increase, both through increased hours and wages. While the Career Development Training Program is still in its early stages, some trainees have already secured career ladder positions before completing the entire training schedule. If these programs continue to show impact, they will be important models for programming that can grow out of actual company needs – engaging key management decision makers, and delivering meaningful value for employees, managers, and the overall business.

About JVS Boston
Founded in 1938, JVS’s employment, skills training, and educational services help individuals with barriers to employment enter and advance in the workplace. JVS also provides on-site career ladder services in partnership with over 20 businesses. Last year, over 1,700 JVS clients found a job, and another 1,200 incumbent workers accessed career ladder services at their place of employment. For more information please visit

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