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Shifting Gears States Driving Innovation in Education and Training for Low-Skilled Adults

January 31, 2013

By Marcie W.M. Foster

In 2007, the Joyce Foundation launched Shifting Gears, a state policy initiative designed to promote regional economic growth by improving the education and skills training of the workforce in six Midwestern states. These states—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin—were tasked to create more seamless pathways to postsecondary credentials and good jobs for lower-skilled adults. The initiative was developed in the wake of a particularly marked transition in the Midwest from largely industrial economies structured around manufacturing to more diversified economies that promised new growth and new jobs. CLASP played a key role in Shifting Gears as the managing intermediary of the overall initiative and the primary provider of technical assistance.

A recently released evaluation report covering the first five years of the initiative discusses the progress these states have made to-date and outlines the activities that contributed most to their success. The report finds that four core activities were critical to the success of the Shifting Gears states:

  • Strengthening alignment and collaboration across the adult education, workforce, and community and technical college systems;
  • Achieving buy-in and commitment of senior state leadership to advance the chosen state strategy;
  • Enacting changes to specific state policies and regulations affecting local programs and delivery, which provided an impetus for local champions to pursue the specified innovative strategy; and
  • Engaging the field of local practitioners and administrators intentionally and repeatedly to create local champions.

The report emphasized that the first five years of Shifting Gears were always intended to be foundational—setting the groundwork for longer-term success and scale. To that point, the core activities found critical to their success reflect a state focus on relationship building and policy change in these initial years, rather than taking new approaches to scale. Still, the evaluators found that four states achieved significant progress toward systemic change and together—due to the states’ efforts--reached about 4,000 low-skilled students, who may have otherwise been unable to access marketable postsecondary credentials.

States are expected to continue on this positive trajectory. In fact, several are continuing to build upon their Shifting Gears efforts.

  • Illinois is expanding its use of bridge programs developed under Shifting Gears through the Accelerating Opportunity initiative and is building bridge programs into manufacturing career pathways through a Workforce Innovation Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Minnesota has received funding from the Joyce Foundation to continue its work under the Shifting Gears initiative into 2013-14 and has recently been selected to participate in an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education to integrate existing career-technical education pathways into broader state system reforms initiated under Shifting Gears.
  • Wisconsin has also received funding from the Joyce Foundation for continued Shifting Gears work until 2013-14 and received a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct activities that expand upon the foundation built through Shifting Gears.
  • Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are participating in a CLASP-led project, the Alliance for Quality Career Pathways, which is bringing together the expertise from leading career pathways states to identify criteria for high-quality career pathways systems and a set of shared performance metrics for measuring and managing their success.

The Shifting Gears initiative was ambitious and one of the first multi-state postsecondary education projects to require states to embark on a process of collaborative and systemic change. To aid them in this ambitious task, the Joyce Foundation provided nearly $8 million in funding to Shifting Gears states, matched by an equal amount from state partners. In addition to CLASP, other partners worked to provide assistance to states: Workforce Strategy Center provided peer learning experiences, Davis Jenkins and Tim Harmon provided assistance on the use of data to inform policy and practice, Douglas Gould and Co. provided communications support and technical assistance, and Brandon Roberts and Derek Price comprised the evaluation team.

View the evaluation report, Shifting Gears: An Evaluation of the First Five Years of Shifting Gears >>

View personal stories from students touched by programs created through Shifting Gears >>

Learn more about the strategies pursued by Shifting Gears states in Shifting Gears: State Innovation to Advance Workers and the Economy in the Midwest >>

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