In 2015, Rhode Island rolled out a new $14 million workforce development program to help ensure that demand for talented workers was met across growing industries. However, the new program did not track information necessary to gauge performance or guide policy decisions.
The GPL helped Rhode Island to develop a rigorous strategy for data collection and performance management of the state's new job programs, streamline intake procedures by eliminating burdensome application processes, and pilot collaborative, high-frequency meetings with program providers to improve service performance.
Rhode Island was able to reconfigure the way it manages and evaluates its job training programs to capture meaningful long-term employment outcomes, improve customer service, and better meet employer demand.
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In 2015, Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training (DLT) rolled out a new workforce development program, Real Jobs Rhode Island. This innovative, sector-based system sought to align the state’s workforce funding sources and training services to ensure that demand for talented workers was met across growing industries. Although the state’s unemployment rate had been declining for years, a skills gap among the workforce left many technical or highly-skilled positions unfilled. To address this, the state provided $14 million in grants to sector partnerships – collaborations of employers, intermediaries, and training providers – with the goal of funding innovative training programs tailored not only to participants' skillsets but also to employers’ existing and anticipated workforce needs. While DLT tracked limited program metrics to comply with state and federal reporting requirements, they did not track information necessary to gauge program performance or guide policy decisions. As a result, DLT was not positioned to determine whether participants were actually better off in the long run after completing a Real Jobs program.
Since 2016, the GPL has worked with DLT and Real Jobs sector partners to implement better data collection and performance management processes in order to strengthen the impact of this new demand-driven system. Project components included:
Reengineering DLT’s data collection systems to capture meaningful metrics, including long-term employment outcomes: In order to better understand which programs were preparing participants for sustainable jobs, the GPL helped DLT develop a rigorous strategy for data collection and performance management along a number of fronts including, but not limited to, participant level, training level, partnership level, and sector and program level measures. This approach helped the state align program goals with performance metrics and allows DLT to monitor partnerships’ progress, detect and address real-time issues, and take advantage of administrative data to track long-term employment and wage outcomes. For example, DLT has set up quarterly wage matches for Real Jobs participants that allow the program to track changes in participants’ employment and wage trajectories from two years pre-enrollment to two years post-enrollment.
Streamlining intake procedures and improving customer service by eliminating burdensome application processes: DLT condensed its lengthy application form into one page by removing redundant and overly burdensome questions and leveraging existing administrative data to fill in information gaps. Many program applicants had previously worked with DLT or other state systems but had difficulties reproducing eligibility documents or navigating confusing intake processes. By tapping into the state’s existing information network, DLT was able to gather relevant data without requiring applicants to fill out time-consuming and unnecessary forms, allowing for faster placement into training programs and job pipelines.
Piloting collaborative, high-frequency meetings with manufacturing and healthcare training programs to improve service performance: The GPL guided DLT in implementing active contract management strategies with contracts for training programs provided by the state’s manufacturing and healthcare sector partnerships. Active contract management consists of high-frequency, data-informed meetings between government and providers designed to produce action that improves results. DLT collaborated with staff from both partnerships and their service providers to examine performance trends and solve problems in real-time. These meetings strengthened the relationship between DLT, its sector partnerships, and training providers, facilitating more regular and productive communication about program activities and challenges. DLT’s proactive management has resulted in quicker course corrections that improved service delivery, including more targeted recruitment and better job placements for participants.
Scaling up contract and performance management practices to include all 33 Real Jobs sector partnerships: After piloting active contract management strategies with manufacturing and healthcare training programs, DLT hopes to scale these practices to encompass all Real Jobs grant agreements. The GPL is working with DLT staff to build the capacity needed to make these meetings a crucial component of Real Jobs Rhode Island’s performance management strategy.
In addition to performance management improvement, this project has tested important advancements in the field of workforce development. Innovations include:
Implementing consistent performance metrics across programs that focus on sustainable job placement: By developing consistent metrics for use across multiple programs and providers, this project has helped to ensure standard practices of evaluation that focus on sustainable job placement. Specifically, the GPL helped develop appropriate metrics for measuring performance of both individual programs and program cohorts, such as training attendance and retention over time. These metrics allow for meaningful comparisons and performance tracking across programs, despite the unique, tailored design of RJRI’s demand-driven training programs.
Incorporating employer-side data to determine the best combination of training services to meet market demand: Although collecting data on program participants is common practice in workforce development initiatives, collecting data on the employers who hire them is not. The GPL is currently working on additional ways to capture useful demand-side information, such as the proportion of employers served within a given sector and the placement and retention rates for specific employers. This data will help DLT track rising or falling demand in industries in order to determine where to best invest their resources.