At the end of January, Jobs for the Future (JFF) announced an acquisition of the Education Quality Outcomes Standards Board (EQOS), a nonprofit I helped cofound and where I serve on the board.
What’s interesting about the acquisition is the signaling effect. Those concerned with training for the future of work are becoming far more concerned with outcomes, not just access to education and upskilling opportunities.
“I think as we begin to look forward and really begin to work towards an equitable recovery, the field really has to take a closer look at the outcomes that are being produced by the training and workforce and education system,” said Tameshia Bridges Mansfield, JFF’s vice president for workforce innovation. “We’re at a point where we can’t just blindly say any training is good training.”
What’s more, Mansfield said, “the marketplace is really large and has become confusing and challenging for learners, for workers, for opportunity seekers, particularly folks who are from a disadvantaged or marginalized community, to really make sense of it and to find the programs that are going to be right for them, that are going to meet their interests and needs, that are going to meet the demands of their local labor markets to really help them cultivate skills and find high paying jobs.”
That’s coalescing to shift JFF from being a “conduit for change,” in Mansfield’s words, to more directly catalyzing specific changes. It will also allow JFF to lean into its advisory work with employers to help them make the most of their education and upskilling programs by better measuring the results of those efforts and targeting them at programs that are more likely to produce real value.
With millions of people trying to figure out their next step along their pathway and what progress looks like for them, that’s created an immediate reason to use the EQOS standards to help JFF inform the marketplace.
“I think of things like the Eligible Training Provider List that is [a] requirement under WIOA,” Mansfield said. “Are there states who are willing… to put their ETPL through the framework and see what rises and what stands and how do they make that information more transparent to local workforce boards, to individuals who walk through the doors of America job centers?”
Steve Yadzinski, JFF’s senior innovation officer, added that “EQOS can help organize that data, advise states, institutions, state workforce agencies, regions, as they make this information available.”
What’s more, JFF will be able to help states and agencies contextualize the data by marrying it with information around what’s in-demand locally. Yadzinski said that having a “deeper understanding of the value of these credentials, because while two credentials may seem very similar, if there’s a demand signal that one is more preferred, gives you a better opportunity professionally, those are the types of information that must be cross-referenced as we implement, hopefully, some of this legislation. It’s absolutely essential to do this work well.”
That local, dynamic context seems imperative because all too often policymakers want to set an absolute bar to determine whether a program is good or bad, which leads them to a tradeoff on the goals of access versus value.
With EQOS having partnered with state departments of higher education in New Jersey, Indiana, and Colorado, as well as with SkillUp, which offers workers the education and career coaching and connections to get hired, in the creation of their provider catalog, Yadzinski said the foundation is in place for more transformational work.
Both Mansfield and Yadzinski said JFF intends to continue to update and evolve EQOS’s quality assurance framework that offers ways for diverse and differentiated learning programs to measure the value they claim they provide learners by measuring student learning outcomes, completion outcomes, placement, value-added earnings, and learner satisfaction and confirmation of purpose.
And they’re hopeful that providers will see this as a way for them to rise to the occasion to better tell the story of their own impact through a rigorous framework.
Finally, JFF also intends to work to get the information to people in a way that is actionable.
According to Mansfield, they intend to use “the framework as a basis for new digital tools and infrastructure that will really help us to collect, to track, to analyze, which is great, but also to share the insights that we’re learning from what we’re collecting about post-secondary quality data. Data is only as good as you make it accessible to people, to help people make sense of the world, to help tell stories about what’s happening.”