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Worker Empowerment Launches Learning Lab To Advance Workforce Development Policy And Practice In Boston

The Worker Empowerment Cabinet launched the Learning Lab, a new endeavor focused on leveraging knowledge and insights to address the needs, gaps, and opportunities in Boston's workforce development system.

This innovative initiative, created in partnership with Roxbury Community College (RCC), builds on the City’s commitment to advancing workforce development in Boston. The Lab aims to inform evidence-based policies and practices through rigorous analysis and collaborative efforts while fostering learning and innovation in the field. The launch event was held at the City Hall Plaza Pavillion on May 18, 2024.

“The Learning Lab represents a fresh opportunity, providing a platform for insightful input to enrich its impact on the workforce development system,” said Deputy Chief of Worker Empowerment, Rashad Cope. “Just as City initiatives and services are tailored to benefit the community, stakeholders, and constituents, the Lab is specifically designed to meet the needs of leaders within Boston's workforce ecosystem, alongside other employers, training providers, and workers. RCC has been a pivotal partner and we eagerly anticipate our continued collaboration as the Learning Lab unfolds, paving the way for innovative solutions in workforce development policy and implementation and fostering positive outcomes for communities across the city.”

Managed by the Cabinet’s Office of Workforce Development, the Learning Lab aims to generate, manage, and share reliable information and knowledge to support evidence-based workforce development policy and practice while capturing insights to enhance field learning and field-building. To support this mission, the Lab will prioritize three issue areas within workforce development that require strategic consideration: 

  1. addressing barriers to upward mobility for low-wage workers, 
  2. ensuring inclusivity in workforce systems, 
  3. and elevating job quality while fostering deeper employer engagement.

“The Learning Lab reflects the City’s commitment to ensuring that knowledge fuels innovation in Boston," said Sarah Saroui, Director of Research, Evaluation, and Analytics in the Office of Workforce Development. "The complexity of social problems demands comprehensive problem-solving and decision-making processes. Policymakers and practitioners must develop new approaches and partnership models to tackle the significant policy challenges in workforce development including job quality, barriers to upward mobility, and economic disparities among workers. These issues demand leadership and action from our field and are the focal points of the Learning Lab's efforts to achieve impact."

Another key function of the Learning Lab is to convene workforce development stakeholders to exchange best practices, particularly between employers and training providers. The launch marked the Lab’s inaugural stakeholder engagement convening with over 70 training providers, industry partners, and stakeholders in Boston’s workforce development ecosystem in attendance such as RCC Interim President Jackie Jenkins-Scott and Executive Director of The Center for Workforce Development Mary Ellen Brett. The event included a fireside chat highlighting the Good Jobs Metro Boston Coalition (GJMBC), a City initiative focused on training and placing 4,618 residents into quality jobs in the healthcare, clean energy, and childcare industries. The initiative is funded by a $23 million American Rescue Plan Good Jobs Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA). The discussion was facilitated by Ashley Hazleton McClafferty, Assistant Director of Workforce Development, MassHire Workforce Board / Boston PIC. GJMBC program participants Elizabeth Noel, Medical Assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Sarah Bukhari, Teacher at Ellis Early Learning, spoke about the impact on an individual's professional growth and skills development by sharing their personal experiences and insights. 

“I always dreamed of becoming a Medical Assistant, so when I found out about this training program being offered by GJMBC in partnership with Mass General Brigham and UMASS Boston, I signed up,” said Elizabeth Noel, Medical Assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital. “In a few hours, I had access to the program for free, I couldn't believe it! Despite the program being distance learning, I received the necessary support to complete it successfully. Most importantly, finding a job wasn't difficult because I received career readiness and job placement support. Once I was employed at Mass General, I thought the support would end, but no, the program followed up with me to see how I was doing even after two months of employment. They even helped me register and pay for the national exam to become certified as a medical assistant. A few months ago, I didn't know what I would do and what I would become but thanks to this program I am a Medical Assistant working in the largest hospital in this state.”

The Lab will host future stakeholder engagement forums focused on various topics highlighting employer-training partnerships to support career pathways to quality jobs for Boston residents. In addition, the Lab will empower stakeholders with the necessary tools to cultivate a robust and adaptable workforce, meeting the needs of both employees and employers. It will also strive to create fair and inclusive opportunities throughout Boston's diverse communities.

Find more information about the Learning Lab.

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