Changing the Regional Story for Workforce Development

Season 2, Episode 6

The transformations in the U.S. economy since 1990 have been dizzying.  In 1990, the manufacturing industry employed the highest number of workers among major industries, in the majority of U.S. states. By 2004, the retail industry emerged as top employer across states.  In 2015, the balance shifted again toward the health care and social assistance industry.  Regional economic development strategies focus on efforts to build and retain industry specialization in the economic base during times of growth and on how to revitalize industry clusters during times of economic restructuring.  Inclusive economic development aims to ensure that the jobs created in dynamic industries are accessible to members of historically overlooked communities and that the jobs themselves are good jobs. Models for equitable growth require overcoming barriers to employment in a regional economy, both in terms of skills on the supply side but also cultural barriers such as longstanding narratives about the ability of traditionally disconnected communities to meet employers’ labor needs.

What is your mental model of an ideal worker?  Is your mindset creating blind spots about talent development? In this week’s episode of the CitySCOPE podcast, our co-hosts Norbert Cichon and Brice Eidson speak with leaders of two workforce intermediaries that have developed creative strategies for regional workforce development. David Dodson, past President of MDC Inc., (and Yale SOM graduate!) highlights the importance of connecting young people to work and learning opportunities early in their education-to-career trajectory, both for the young people and for their employers.  His experience with the Made in Durham effort in Durham, North Carolina illustrates both the opportunities and the challenges in this work, even in an economically strong region, home to innovative, globally competitive companies.  Jerry Rubin of Jewish Vocational Services in Boston, shares lessons from his decades of work developing smart and responsive initiatives building bridges to career opportunities in the healthcare sector.  At a time when the American economy is producing both highly paid jobs for those with higher levels of education and large numbers of low wage jobs, Jerry shares what he’s learned about how to direct supply side training toward demand side needs and the importance of pairing those initiatives with strategic efforts to address job quality at the sector level. 

Join us for a great conversation!

Listen by clicking above, or listen and subscribe on applegooglespotifystitcher, and soundcloud.


1. Learn more about Made in Durham here including current computer campaign initiative here

2. JVS Boston website

3. Tuning into Local Labor Markets: Findings from Sectoral Impact Study by Public/ Private Ventures here

4. Information about MA Pathways to Economic Advancement, the JVS Boston Social Impact Bond award

Episode Transcript: 

Kate Cooney:

This is CitySCOPE.

Uzma Amin:

A podcast from the Inclusive Economic Development Lab at the Yale School of Management.

Evan Oleson:

Where we learn about what might be possible in our city by talking with others about what is happening in theirs.

Joy Chen:

Are we ready?

Allen Xu:

Let’s go.

MUSIC (K.Dub):

Elm City, what up?

Allen Xu (00:28):

Norbert Cichon (00:13):

Welcome to Season 2, Episode 6 of the CitySCOPE podcast. My name is Norbert Cichon and I’m a first year MBA student at the Yale School of Management. I will be one of your hosts for the episode.

Brice Eidson (00:38):

My name is Brice Eidson. I’m a recent MBA graduate from Yale SOM. We have some fantastic guests for you today from two of the leading workforce development organizations across the country. Over the past few weeks, we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing David Dodson of Made in Durham, in Durham, North Carolina and Jerry Rubin of Jewish Vocational Services in Boston, Massachusetts. Let us quickly set the stage before we dive in.

Norbert Cichon (01:02):

Made in Durham is a multi-stakeholder community partnership bringing together educators, business, government, youth serving non-profits and young people around the shared vision that all of Durham’s youth will complete high school and a post-secondary credential and begin a rewarding career by the age of 25. The organization’s key thesis is that driven by prospects of a good job and meaningful career, young people are happy to both enter and stay in effective education to career systems, leaving them better prepared for the workplace of the future and benefiting the regional economy with a strong pipeline of local talent. A key figure at Made in Durham is David Dodson, president of MDC, an organization focused on advancing the economic mobility for people in North Carolina’s margins through research, analysis, and advisory services. His guiding strategy has been to help frame the equity agenda for a region characterized by inequity across multiple dimensions. Planning on stepping down and retiring from his role after over 30 years with the organization, David was gracious enough to sit down with us and discuss his views on key aspects of workforce development and the crucial role community engagement plays in the process.

Brice Eidson (02:01):

We’ll also be hearing from Jerry Rubin, President and CEO of Jewish Vocational Services of Greater Boston. Jewish Vocational Services is a preeminent workforce development organization dedicated to empowering individuals from diverse communities to find employment and build careers while partnering with employers to hire, develop and retain productive workforces. JVS is a highly innovative player in workforce development and it has garnered lots of attention in recent years for its participation in a marquee randomized controlled trial, the first of its kind in the field, which clearly demonstrated the efficacy of its sectoral workforce development programs. More recently, JVS received the first social impact bond in the workforce development field in the United States. Prior to joining JVS, Jerry was Vice President of Building Economic Oopportunities at Jobs for the Future. Jerry was also founder and executive director of two non-profits, The Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership, a training and consulting organization, and The Coalition for a Better Acre, a community development corporation based in Lowell, Massachusetts. Jerry also worked in the administration of Boston Mayor Ray Flynn leading several housing economic development and workforce development initiatives.

Norbert Cichon (03:11):

The first key theme to emerge in our discussion with David is one we, and by now you as well if you’ve been listening from the beginning of Season 2, are quite familiar with, namely, the pervasive and sticky nature of narratives. In his new book about the power of narratives in the economy, Professor Bob Shiller proposes that a story’s contagion rate is unaffected by its underlying truth. We are storytelling animals and a story left unchecked quickly metastasizes into a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the case of Durham, North Carolina, for a long time, the story was that local people are simply not a resource worth investing in. Durham is not a place you train to develop. Durham is a place where you come to cut costs.

David Dodson (03:47):

My name is David Dodson. I am in Durham, North Carolina. I’m the President of MDC, a non-profit that works to advance social and economic equity across the South. Even though we don’t like to always admit it, Durham is in the South and the South has a couple of things that work against vigorous and equitable workforce development. First is that for a long time, our dominant approach to economic development was by selling cheap labor, low operating costs and low taxes, and being the lowest cost and the most union-free region for production. So, all of those things produced an orthodoxy, that’s the best word I could talk about, that said cut your costs and people are not a resource in which you invest deeply. So, that succeeded for a while, but with the emergence of a more globalized economy and lower cost producers, that economic advantage, which was not really an advantage for workers, no longer worked for the South; but we have a legacy of that. So, we’ve got a mindset of underinvestment in people that doesn’t serve a knowledge economy. And that’s the particular challenge that exists in Durham, which was a manufacturing city. This is the home of James B. Duke. It is the home of manufactured tobacco, the cigarette manufacturing capital. And until the 1980s, it made textiles and tobacco products and had a large concentration of its workforce in low wage work.

Norbert Cichon (05:42):

The problem with this approach, of course, is that human capital is a resource like any other, it’s a muscle, and a muscle left untrained begins to atrophy. Given Durham’s unique geographical location, shifts in the economy that accompanied globalization presented tough challenges for an economic transition toward a knowledge-based economy which required a work force with new skills.

David Dodson (06:00):

We became the home of Research Triangle Park and the economy shifted really pretty remarkably to be one based on knowledge, on technology, on biotech, on scientific endeavor. So, what happened was both the culture and the workforce that had been present for the tobacco manufacturing no longer fit the new economy and people were dispossessed.

Norbert Cichon (06:27):

Local economies are not static. They are dynamic reflections of the changing world around us and they require an equal, dynamic pipeline of talent to keep them running. If that pipeline doesn’t exist locally, it must be sourced elsewhere.

David Dodson (06:38):

So, for a long time, Durham tried to turn its people into the workforce needed for a knowledge economy. And quite frankly, that proved too hard. So, as we began to do our work in Made in Durham, a leader finally said after about a year’s worth of work, “You know, we used to practice talent development in Durham, but it was too hard so we pivoted to talent recruitment.” And that is, in fact, what we have now. That the major industries, including the Medical Center at Duke, which is our largest employer, and many of the industries found it easier to advertise the benefits of a nice climate and a benign political environment, when it’s good, and recruit people to come here. So that’s what happened. And as a result, the talent development system that should have been in place to turn Durham’s people into the workers for Durham’s best jobs, that system atrophied. And it still does not have the muscle it needs to be able to lift people who are born at the bottom of the economic ladder and get to a better place. So, the deficits of talent development have translated into really poor upward mobility for a lot of people born in the lower part of the economic ladder and there’s a racial complexion to that because most of those people are black and brown. And if you allow those in-migration dynamics to happen at the expense of not developing your people, you just keep poverty entrenched. So, this is a really important public policy conversation as well as infrastructure engineering conversation.

Norbert Cichon (08:24):

What David describes is not exclusive to Durham. It has been happening nationwide. Economic dispossession was in no small part driven by a notion that economic thinking were once values dictated by the market price he or she commands in the labor market. Given that the value proposition for southern states since the late 1940s was predicated on being low cost and anti-union, the intrinsic value of Durham’s local workforce was perceived to be low, low enough not to warrant any substantial and ongoing investment. So, how do we shift this paradigm to a more sustainable and inclusive one?

David Dodson (08:55):

It took a while. We’re an action research organization. We published a report, one might say an exposé, about the stalled upward mobility. We didn’t use those terms then. We used the term disconnected use; the fact that too many young people in Durham were not on a path to a post-secondary credential and life success. And that shocked people who tended to think we were progressive, we were prosperous and the rising tide must have been lifting all boats. That actually got the attention of political leaders and civic leaders.

Norbert Cichon (09:29):

David soon realized that to fill in gaps in the community’s existing skills and networks, close cooperation with the regional employer network is an imperative, unavoidable requirement. In fact, what is needed is a two-customer model. Well, first of all, the organizations need to think of themselves as not only serving the local labor side actors, the job seekers, they need to work hand in hand with local employers as well, serving as a translation mechanism between the two parties who often times speed past each other. Here, David recounts his initial interaction with a local MDC policy advisor who, as a fun fact, used to advise none other than Prime Minister Tony Blair.

David Dodson (10:04):

We had a, and still do have, a legendary senior fellow, a woman named Cay Stratton, who retired to this area after being the youth policy advisor for Tony Blair and before that for Governor Dukakis. And she came here and said she heard about MDC and we said, “We’re working on this work to get young people connected.” And she said, “Well, where are the employers?” And I said, “Well, people here don’t develop talent, they recruit it.” And she said, “But that’s just insane.” And I said to Cay, who her father had been president of MIT, I said, “Cay, I gotta tell you something. This is not Cambridge.” It’s like, “You gotta wake up. Things happen differently here.” But she insisted that employers be at the table and that if we were going to create a system to move youth toward positive credentials and careers, we needed to develop a two-customer system, one that saw young people and employers both as the beneficiaries of a system that really worked on talent development.

Brice Eidson (11:14):

Understanding what key employers are demanding from the labor market is essential and workforce development intermediaries like JVS and Made in Durham both search for ways to ensure their training and coaching efforts are developed with an eye toward placing candidates in jobs that actually exist. The goal is to provide tools that enable candidates from a variety of often challenging backgrounds to find good careers, not just any job, and to increase their earning potential. JVS won recognition early on for designing training programs in collaboration with the regional employers in the Boston area and was the subject of a randomized controlled trial design study to test the efficacy of these kind of sectoral training projects. We’ll hear from Jerry next, but spoiler alert, the study showed empirically that Cay and David were absolutely right. When employers have skin in the game with the right intermediary, the results can be impressive.

Jerry Rubin (12:05):

I’m Jerry Rubin. I’m President and CEO of Jewish Vocational Service in Boston, Massachusetts. The sectoral workforce study by Public/Private Ventures was important for a number of reasons. One is it was one of the very first, and may have been the first, randomized controlled trial studies of workforce development. And what was really important about that particular study is it took three what are called sectoral workforce development programs from different parts of the country, Boston, New York, and Milwaukee, and did a multi-year randomized controlled trial and showed very, very significant earnings differentials that really answered the question that is raised almost regularly on an annual basis - does job training work? And the study answered it definitively, yes, it does if it’s designed right. I think that those three programs that were evaluated all had several common features. They all incorporated a really strong contextualized training, a lot of experiential learning, so from the curriculum side. They all incorporated coaching. So, all of our training programs have both instructional elements and coaching elements. And in our case, the coaching I would say is almost, if not more important than the instructional element because our coaches face in two directions. They face the student who will ultimately be a job applicant and they face the employer, hiring managers, who we’re working with. And so, our coaches are actually both social workers on the one hand and staffing professionals on the other hand. And that model of combining skill building or instructional service and really deeply embedded relationships with the people that are doing the hiring is what makes our model successful and that’s really important.

Norbert Cichon (14:06):

David’s challenge and the work of Made in Durham was to begin that collaboration. To forge relationships and take on the regional culture where this was not typically done, David went right to the top.

David Dodson (14:15):

Through good fortune, it really was good fortune, it got the attention of the Chancellor of the Duke Health System, a man named Victor Dzau, a medical doctor, who still today is the board chair of Made in Durham, the organization that we created. And he was initially attracted to this problem of people stalled and stuck in poverty because he as a health leader looked at poverty as a key anchor on positive health outcomes. So, we had a table of CEOs and of education heads, all the right people that came through persuasive research and the personal agency really of Victor Dzau who called in his chips with his CEO friends. So, through Victor’s leadership, we spent probably six months in his chauffeur-driven Chevy Suburban driving around and meeting with the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, which was based here, the Chief Manufacturing Officer, the kind of head of the large Cisco operation, the head of the Biogen operation, all of these major corporate presences, and got them to be at the board table of Made in Durham.

Brice Eidson (15:37):

This is an interesting point of contrast between Made in Durham and Jewish Vocational Services. JVS is much further down this road than Made in Durham and at this stage, Jerry Rubin emphasized that most of their collaboration occurs at the HR level, although they do rely on relationships with top executives and management when advancing broader changes in the workforce development agenda. But it seems like there is generally a higher degree of buy in from major employers in the Boston area as they and others in the region have a longer history of establishing these practices.

Jerry Rubin (16:07):

We’ve been doing this for more than 15 years. Our first major employer partner was Mass General Hospital. We’ve been working with them for 20 years and they’re the largest employer in Boston; but when we started working with them, we were working with them. We were working with one employer. And now we have, oh, my gosh, active contracts with probably 30 major employers in and around the Boston area. A lot of it is relationship building and I would say most of our relationship building really happens through HR departments and in cases where hospitals actually have a workforce development department, it’ll be through that, which is often part of human resources. We do certainly have relationships with the CEO of organizations and if you’re really going to be involved in a major organizational initiative like creating career ladder initiative or something that requires real culture change, it certainly helps to have top leadership. But I’d say on a day-to-day level, we’re really mostly operating with HR leaders and workforce development leaders and we have longstanding relationships with those individuals, and they go back many years. I often say those relationships when they get really good, when they’re really deep, we get pulled in under the tent. We’re not just delivering classes for those employers, but we’re helping them to solve workforce challenges that they have. We have a limited set of services, but we can expand those services together with them.

Norbert Cichon (17:44):

Herein lies the beauty of close cooperation. It serves as forced introspection. By elucidating each side’s experience of the problem, what can surface is the possibility of shared solutions. It facilitates problem solving. Back to David in Made in Durham where the conversation started by focusing on the supply side, but over time, a deeper understanding of the dynamic between both sides emerged.

David Dodson (18:04):

The challenge came when the conversations began to externalize the problem. By that I mean the framing of the problem by the initial Made in Durham board looked more at the deficiencies of the supply system than the behaviors of the demand system. In other words, we didn’t name the fact that the dominant mindset was recruit your talent versus grow your talent. And it exposed a real problem, that the problem of talent development was asynchronous, that the industry had a need for immediate talent when young people had the need for a developmental approach. And we didn’t realize the fact that it was very difficult to get well-meaning companies, including the health system, to invest in a long-term solution when they had immediate needs.

Norbert Cichon (19:04):

By working together in a multi-stakeholder system, employers were forced to look in the mirror and acknowledge and accept their role and responsibility in the local workforce breakdown. The focus now shifted to how to best address this issue of asynchronicity David referred to. The fact that employers want and need work to be done now, work which to be done correctly requires proper training and training takes time. More on that later.

David Dodson (19:27):

I mean that sounds so obvious in retrospect, but we couldn’t realize why we couldn’t get serious traction in the hospital when they clearly had a vested interest in health outcomes and addressing poverty. It was because they had found a more expedient way to address their talent.

Norbert Cichon (19:47):

Once an understanding developed about the contours of the mismatch between demand side needs and supply side skills, there was another reality to combat, the misunderstandings that thrive with a lack of proximity. And as David argues, proximity and exposure are the best way to successfully combat the narratives operating under the surface to reinforce the status quo. Simulating interaction between those previously unacquainted can allow each to see the other in a new light. Instead of oil and water, the two may find mutuality, respect and understanding.

David Dodson (20:17):

I think those stereotypes die very hard and they are hardest to eliminate when you’re trying to advance the populations that are most distressed. So, one of the ways that the narrative has changed is through the direct exposure and experience that has come as we’ve improved work-based learning in Durham. As employers actually get to see and experience, not be told, but to see the intelligence and contribution that young people from non-traditional backgrounds are able to show, they are invariably, positively surprised. But there’ve been several decades of disconnection and so it takes a lot of work to engineer enough real-time experience that the narrative shifts. But I think the narrative shifts because out of proximity and out of direct experience with somebody who comes from a non-traditional background. I think smaller cities like Durham need more experiences like Year Up and other sorts of programs that are designed in larger cities to give people experience with large, fast growing, high paying employers. So, part of it’s a mindset, part of it’s exposure, part of it is the institutional infrastructure that’s needed, the intermediary infrastructure to manage those relationships. There are very few labor force intermediaries in the South, period. I think as a result of our being a right to work, union-free environment, there are not these public/private entities that can do this kind of matching and validating work and we really need that. Made in Durham, what we tried to create was and is an intermediary to both bridge the verbal narrative, change mindset, but also change experience and change systems, and I think you’ve gotta have all of that going on.

Brice Eidson (22:30):

Jerry Rubin also touched on the challenges of existing narratives around job readiness in the context of JVS’s Career Ladder Program through which JVS partners with employers to train workers for positions of increasing responsibility. From Jerry’s experience, two things make a difference when redirecting hiring to a population that has not been considered before, top level commitment and clear objective metrics that hold people accountable to the new direction in hiring.

Jerry Rubin (22:57):

We’ve had other projects also in healthcare where we were trying to help move individuals in the nonclinical areas, so food service, maintenance and cleaning, patient transport, so forth, and to help move them into administrative and potentially into clinical positions. We had some success with that, but I’d say where we’ve had real challenges are… that kind of project involves major culture change inside an organization and as it would in any organization, including our own frankly. If you’re looking to bring nontraditional candidates into positions where they haven’t been before, there has to be a very, very, not only a strong commitment, but actually, a set of required metrics and goals, and people need to be judged on how successful that is and they need to know that they’re being judged that way. Because otherwise, hiring managers will fall back to what they know and what’s easiest, which typically is hiring people that they know and are familiar with and look like the people they’ve always hired and sound like the people they’ve always hired. That kind of change is really very challenging because it’s way more than just creating the training programs or even the pathways. It’s changing an entire organizational culture and for that, you really do need top level commitment in a very, very serious way. And that top level commitment has to be the result of a real need, a felt need inside the organization. If there’s not a fundamental driver, either it’s increasing their market share or reducing their cost or increasing their competitiveness or maybe increasing their diversity, but if there’s not a clear driver for it, it’s not going to happen. It’s just not.

Norbert Cichon (24:55):

Held stereotypes and lack of proximity hurt employees should be intuitive. To personify this dynamic, and note it impairs employer’s operations as well, David shared with us this poignant anecdote.

David Dodson (25:07):

And one of the great stories was we were in meeting with the CEOs, the CEO GlaxoSmithKline, Dr. Dzau, the head of the medical center at Duke, the head of the large Cisco operation, the head of Biogen sitting around the table with the head of the community college, and we had a superior court judge, African American, the first African American woman elected judge in this part of North Carolina and she was a real advocate for disconnected youth. And this is about six months into these meetings, and she said well, “Dr. Dzau, did I ever tell you the story of how the Duke Medical Center made me a judge?” And I said to myself, “This is not going to be good. I hope he doesn’t bite.” And Victor, who is now my good friend, he said, “Well, no. Elaine, tell me,” he said. “Well, I had just graduated from North Carolina Central, the HBCU that’s also in Durham and like many graduates, I decided to go across town and get a job at Duke. So I went and I had my interview with the HR person. And they said, ‘Oh, well, Ms. O’Neal, you have an exemplary record. You’re magna cum laude from North Carolina Central. You present so very well. Your family is distinguished. And maybe in time were you to come to Duke, I think you could be a very fine executive secretary.’” And she got up and said, “Thank you very much.” And she said, “And Dr. Dzau, I walked across town and enrolled in law school and now I’m a judge. Thank you very much, Duke Medical Center.” And that was the story.

David Dodson (26:51):

Victor, to his credit said, “How much talent are we turning away because this is our mindset?” And that was when a little spark went off and it didn’t immediately translate into a reshuffling of the corporate talent apparatus, but those meetings allowed people to hear a story, to hear a life story that very rarely penetrated to their level because this is the South. People were too polite and finally, some candor shone through and this person said, “I had every possible credential anybody could want.” She’s now the dean of the law school and she said, “But you only saw an African American woman from the wrong side of town and made all these sorts of conclusions about me.”

Norbert Cichon (27:40):

So we’ve learned the one crucial element is embracing the fact that an important part of this work is cultural. Another important piece is that the current rate of technological change and mix of global forces mean a changing landscape in employer needs, which in turn, to take the other side of the coin, involves focusing on and maximizing long-term employee flexibility. As exemplified by Durham’s history, other investment leads to a static workforce unprepared for the rapidly shifting gusts of global economies. How do we create a robust culture of talent development that doesn’t bind or tether employees to any particular employer or niche limited skill set? The answer says David Dodson is starting training as early as possible. How would this look like in practice?

David Dodson (28:19):

There is no substitute for employer demand and that needs to begin with helping students who are precollege age get exposure to opportunities that are in the market place and then have that translate into internships and apprenticeships and allow people who want to stay on that path to connect with a particular industry, but not bind someone to a path that where they might want to explore an alternative. And that really means we have to have a culture of talent development that isn’t aligned with just one or two big employers. We’re still far from that.

Brice Eidson (29:02):

David is making a very important point there and it is a lesson that JVS learned early on. One danger was developing a close working relationship with just one or two employers is that in a turbulent economy, even very successful job pathways might not remain viable. Remember that RCT study that won JVS so much attention in the early 2000s?

Jerry Rubin (29:23):

The program at that time that was being evaluated was actually a medical office program, which we actually ended not long after the study was completed, which is interesting, right, because the study showed significant earnings impact. But what happened is the labor market changed pretty substantially and what we were finding was that our clients who are almost entirely individuals who are coming off of public assistance, were increasingly competing with college educated applicants for medical office positions in the healthcare sector in Boston. And regardless of how great our folks were and how much great training we did, they just couldn’t compete. They just couldn’t. And so, we actually shifted out of that program; we moved into a number of other different healthcare related programs, but that activity, that kind of understanding changes in the labor market and where there’s opportunity for low income workers to gain skills and earn more, is a really important element of successful workforce development. We’re constantly changing, but you’ve got to be flexible. You’ve got to be willing to move with the nature of the labor market.

Norbert Cichon (30:38):

David has a sense of this already, even though Made in Durham is much earlier into this work.

David Dodson (30:42):

Ideally, you would want a configuration like this. Several employers, and maybe we’re building that with the biotech, with hospitality and with health, providing the demand side on one end, schools and community colleges with a variety of programs that could allow students to explore and connect to exposure and then paid work and then internship and maybe apprenticeship, and Made in Durham being the connecting agent that facilitates the connections between supply and demand; that would be the picture of a strong intermediary centered talent development system. We’ve got pieces of that, but I think that’s what you’d actually want to have in order to have young people get exposed to a series of options that they could then pursue through community college and beyond, and on the far end of that education, a variety of actual employment opportunities that could connect with folks’ interests. That’s the kind of workforce system and culture that would really allow talent to flourish and nourish the energy that young people have, but we’re kind of far from that. So those are the elements, that you have demand side leadership, you have supply side nimbleness that’s creating a variety of avenues for exploration, and you have an intermediary in the middle that’s providing that connection. And then enough money from the philanthropic and public sectors to be able to nourish and lubricate … I mean that’s what the design would look like and that’s what we’re still trying to do.

Norbert Cichon (32:25):

And what has been Durham’s progress to date?

David Dodson (32:28):

Our initial focus was 16 to 24-year-olds. Community college began to develop for the older end of the continuum, a variety of programs in concert with the health system, with firms in Research Triangle Park, with the hospitality industry, with construction that began to be work-based learning approaches to skills, trades and onboarding in the industry. So, that really worked. The problem was getting school age young people connected to work based learning, real, on the ground, paid experiences that would give them a sense of the world of work, particularly if they came from isolated, disadvantaged backgrounds and would give them a sense of what they might aspire to. And the real problem was and continues to be that of out of school youth who are beyond the reach even of the school system. So we saw some changes in the community college. I was simultaneously, which was helpful, a trustee of the community college. So, that was useful.

David Dodson (33:35):

We ultimately saw because as Made in Durham evolved, we had a youth leadership, youth organizing strategy and young people in the schools began to talk about the absence of any work-based learning preparation for them even to understand what health careers and success in the medical and technology economy even looked like. So, they put pressure on the schools and one of the great positive results was a vastly improved work-based learning policy and strategy for the public school system that really is quite strong. So, that was a policy outcome, which was really a significant victory.

Norbert Cichon (34:16):

Well, this might sound obvious, it was anything but straightforward, in large part due to the longstanding regional culture David described earlier.

David Dodson (34:23):

A hospital is a leader in that. There have been some behavioral changes, but still the culture is straddling the old school don’t invest in people and the new value proposition that’s just come about through Made in Durham. These things take time. This is really as much a question of culture and mindset as it is a policy and practice, and I think culture and mindset change very slowly.

Norbert Cichon (34:48):

I think the playbook is starting to crystallize. By choosing to participate in a two-customer model, employers empower workforce development organizations with a direct line of sight through every aspect of building out the local economy pipeline. With greater familiarity as to employers’ forthcoming needs and growth goals, these organizations can curate and tweak training and apprenticeship programs, targeting potential employees at an early age, outfitting them with skills not just for today, but for tomorrow as well. From today’s vantage point, we can see that the work Made in Durham spearheaded with the hospital laid a foundation for an acceleration of the effort when a newer industry began to grow.

David Dodson (35:23):

We’re going to have a thousand new biotech jobs that are very highly paid and require a post-secondary credential short of a BA, so a community college credential, a thousand such jobs in the next three to four years. And employers are saying this is an opportunity for a grow-your-own talent pool so that we don’t have to be vying for talent with other places with deeper pockets. So the mindset among biotech sector leaders, it’s not a particular company. It’s more a sectoral leadership strategy is it’s the time has come to take advantage of Made in Durham, the intermediary, and begin to draw on the infrastructure and relationships that have been built over the last five years. And so, the value proposition is you will have greater loyalty, perhaps lower turnover, certainly a greater chance to forge and form the workforce you need if you start with an investment strategy that begins while people are young and give them incentives to move through a system and become your employees, and that’s beginning to take hold.

Brice Eidson (36:37):

Just as David emphasizes the importance of employer demand and devising an effective workforce development strategy, Jerry Rubin explains that JVS owes a lot of its success to being highly attuned to employer needs and the exact nature of labor demand. This hasn’t always been the preferred approach in workforce development, but it has turned out to be highly effective and it is still consistent with facilitating cultural change.

Jerry Rubin (37:00):

I think for us at JVS, the relationship between employer interest and employee or worker interest are inextricably linked and tied to our strategy. We fundamentally believe that the Venn diagram, the sweet spot of overlap, is really where we work. And we are convinced and have been for a long time, that our success in meeting employer needs really allows us to benefit our clients who tend to be either workers and/or job seekers. And we see those as mutually reliant on each other and very closely linked.

Brice Eidson (37:42):

One aspect of the labor market that the COVID-19 public health crisis has illuminated is the low quality of the jobs in terms of wages and worker protections in some parts of the health care industry. JVS’s sophisticated understanding of market forces led to their creation of a job quality assessment tool. This tool allows the organization to vet potential partners and place candidates in high quality jobs best positioned to advance their careers and earning potential. This is another area where a deep understanding of the actual conditions of the labor market goes hand in hand with helping candidates navigate toward better outcomes and job satisfaction. It is also designed to put pressure on lower road employers to improve their job conditions by shining a light on their competitive disadvantage.

Jerry Rubin (38:30):

We’ve developed a really wonderful job quality assessment tool that companies take and it ranks them across five major elements and sub-elements of what our clients told us job quality meant to them. That’s how we put it together. And then, these companies get compared to other companies with very similar jobs so they can actually benchmark themselves. And then, our goal is to help them get better so that they can be more competitive in what was a very tight job market. But also I mentioned that we created this talent pipeline model for specific positions. We would go out and recruit a group of candidates. The employer would select them and essentially pre-hire them. Then, we would roll out the training, usually at the employer’s site and then the individuals, assuming they complete it, would begin working the day they finished. And we’re doing a lot of those, growing really, really fast. But one of the things that was very interesting about that model is it allowed us to negotiate with the employer around job quality, not as a scold. We weren’t saying to them, “Oh, gee, Hospital X, you paid your pharmacy techs $17 and Hospital Y, you’re paying them $19 so Hospital X, you’re bad.” No, it was, “If you want the best of our students and you want to recruit effectively, you might want to be competing with the top of the list.” And so it really was a conversation about competitiveness. It wasn’t a judgment call about the quality of their job and we turned people down. I remember this very clearly that we turned a nursing home organization down because, first of all, we could see what their wages were - they weren’t competitive - and our clients described some of the working conditions there and we said to them, “We are happy to talk to you about what we know, but we don’t even want to try and recruit for you ‘cause we won’t be successful.” That was an interesting conversation.

Norbert Cichon (40:28):

Finally, we asked our guests about the sources of funding and their day-to-day operating structures and the roles played by both public and private actors.

David Dodson (40:35):

So the philanthropy created the host organization, which is now supported actually by the public sector, city and county and less philanthropy. It’s now publicly supported. Philanthropy also supported the development of model programs to provide on ramps for disconnected populations and on ramps into sectoral training, and that’s been really important. We are not well endowed community philanthropically so we’ve actually had to rely much more than other intermediary structures on public sector support and some modest corporate support, but that remains a problem. If you look at larger cities where these employment intermediaries do exist and are successful like Philadelphia has had a very strong one. Louisville has got something called 55,000 Degrees, which is an SOM alumna who runs that I think, they just have a more wholesome blend of public, private and philanthropic support.

Brice Eidson (41:38):

Durham might not be too much of an outlier though. Public support is essential for many workforce development organizations, even prominent and highly successful ones like JVS. Here’s what Jerry Rubin had to say about the funding mix at JVS.

Jerry Rubin (41:53):

At the simplest level, we are 50% publicly funded and 50% privately funded. The public funding includes federal dollars; typically, they come through the state and then from the state to JVS. It includes direct state dollars that come out of state appropriation and it includes city, municipal dollars. Mostly in Boston, that’s tied to real estate linkage payments that go into workforce development. So that’s on the public side and we have a wide range of contracts, dozens, dozens, dozens of contracts.

Jerry Rubin (42:32):

On the private side, that breaks down into three main buckets. One is foundation support. So those would be both local and national foundations. Individual donors, so those are typically either high net worth individuals who are really supportive of our workforce, sometimes making intermittent or smaller donations. And then, the last piece is earned income, which is almost entirely our employer fees. That last part has been about 15% of our overall revenue, which my intent or my goal or my hope has been and will continue to be to grow that.

Norbert Cichon (43:12):

This led us to a deeper discussion on the nature and efficacy of publicly funded and operated development agencies and inherent failings in the current status quo model from David.

David Dodson (43:21):

The other thing I would just mention to you, which really does need attention and it’s an in the weeds wonky thing, but the public workforce development system in which there are billions of dollars is insufficiently organized and insufficiently led to be a resource for these kinds of problems. I mean at one level, you should not have to create independent intermediaries with that much money flowing through a public system. But that public system doesn’t have the pressures or incentives to dig deep into turning disconnected populations into talent. That is an enormous SOM public policy problem. Why do we allow money that could be going to developmental efforts that are innovative like this to be squandered in programs that are low performing? When we started Made in Durham, someone said, “We thought we would model this and give the program over to the public workforce board.” But then we looked at the public workforce board and unlike Made in Durham, the board was not composed of CEOs. It was of lower level managers who had no standing in their respective … So it was sort of a civic show up, do nothing environment that had millions of dollars in it. Why doesn’t the public workforce system work as a workforce system when there are billions of dollars there? It’s sort of an unglamorous question, but there’s a lot at stake.

Brice Eidson (44:56):

One more parting thought - throughout a number of our conversations with folks in the workforce development space, the sudden and dramatic change in the labor market as a result of the COVID-19 crisis came up as it was unfolding in real time. There is no escaping the fact that Great Depression levels of unemployment will obviously require a major shift in focus and it remains to be seen how long these effects will last. COVID-19 also raises a whole series of issues around worker health and safety, remote work and worsening income and equality. Many of these issues are beyond the purview of this episode, but we would be remiss if we did not raise them as additional food for thought. Here’s Jerry.

Jerry Rubin (45:36):

We really see the issue of wages and job quality not as a static issue, but as a continuum. That said, over the last few years, particularly as the job market got so, so tight and in Boston, it’s very, very tight, we are 2.5% unemployment until six weeks ago, we put a major strategic focus on job quality at JVS. In fact, that really was our strategic plan, our goal was to try and take advantage of the tight job market to the benefit of our clients who had more bargaining power in a tight job market. Now, how that translates into the softer job market that we’re now facing, we’re heading into what looks to be perhaps as high as a 20% unemployment rate, remains to be seen. That may be a conversation for another time. It’s a long conversation.

Brice Eidson (46:28):

There’s no doubt that building multi-stakeholder initiatives and dual client workforce development systems has created some really important job pipelines for communities that have not been able to connect into these job opportunities on their own.

Norbert Cichon (46:39):

Equally clear is that this work is both technical and cultural. The narratives of who is job ready, of fit, of worthiness are constructed across regional labor markets with pockets of disadvantage and access so vast that it takes a concerted effort to deconstruct the narrative understandings of who the ideal candidate is and where you might find them.

Brice Eidson (46:57):

Thanks again to our two guests today, Jerry Rubin from JVS and David Dodson from Made in Durham. It was great to hear such skilled and innovative leaders reflect so thoughtfully about their work.

Norbert Cichon (47:07):

We hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we did. Join us next time for Episode 7 when Steven and Evan talk with James Johnson-Piett from Urbane Consulting and Prabal Chakrabarti from the Boston Fed about creating a vision to guide investments in the regional economy.

Brice Eidson (47:21):

Join us next time on CitySCOPE.

Alexandra Sing:

This podcast was recorded in our homes on Zencastr.

Stephen Henriques:

Created by Kate Cooney and the students of the spring 2020 Inclusive Economic Development Lab class.

Marisa Berry:

All engineering and projection by Ryan McEvoy and Kate Cooney.

Joy Chen:

Special thanks to Rhona Ceppos for administration support and to [Giana Montez 00:39:57] for assistance with Zoom.

Charles Gress:

Music from the album Elm City Trees composed and performed by the artist K Dub. For more information and show notes, visit our website at

Arianna Blanco:

Thank you for listening.

Music (K.Dub):

Look, I’m from a city that’s half pretty and half gritty. Ain’t too many cities rocking with the Elm City. Home of the blazers. Those were the days. When I played, all these fast breaks. We don’t need plays. We play on Sundays like we don’t need praise. We pressing all game like we don’t breaks. Look, no debate. Best team in the state. We flow like the Lakers back in ‘88. I learned to play crazy eights in the city that raised the kid that want to big. Like I want to be big. I really hate the way rap’s portrayed. I want to the kids in the Elm to see a different way. Because way back I knew that I would get some pay. Every day in the mirror trying to get some waves. I ain’t trying to push weight. I want to own estates. Putting on the state on my license plate. Elm City. All I need is some Elm City trees. Avoided the trap, now you know where I be at. Everywhere I go, I rep that 203. Yeah, I love my city, but I had to leave. All I need is some Elm City trees. Avoided the trap, now you know where I be at. Everywhere I go, I rep that 203. Yeah, I love my city, but I had to leave.