More and more organizations are recognizing the benefits of workforce intermediaries, and word is beginning to spread. The Ford Foundation, an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization based in New York, funds several intermediaries that come from the business and training world.
Funding workforce intermediaries is a natural fit for the Ford Foundation, according to John Colburn, deputy director of the Ford Foundation's economic development unit. In 1996, the Foundation launched its Corporate Involvement Initiative to encourage investment in economic development projects that benefit businesses and communities. "Over the past few years we have taken an asset-building approach to alleviating poverty," Colburn says. "It helps people exert some control over their lives, so they are able to participate in society in meaningful ways. Although most people think of assets as exclusively financial assets, the Foundation takes an expanded view of that so it includes marketable skills that come from training."
Colburn says this new breed of intermediaries takes a variety of forms, but they share a common goal: meeting the needs of employers, workers and job seekers. "Intermediaries technically train the workers to get jobs," he says. "And this approach benefits both the employer and employee."
A recent study sponsored by the Ford Foundation found that employers that use workforce intermediaries to provide training enjoy higher productivity than firms that did not use intermediaries, translating into higher wages. The study is highlighted in Workforce Intermediaries for the 21st Century (Temple University Press, in association with The American Assembly, Columbia University, 2003).
"The time is right for workforce intermediaries," says Robert Giloth, the book's editor. "Businesses are facing a long-term shortage of skilled workers, and evaluations show that job training for the poor over the past 25 years had produced only meager results. As a result, a number of groups throughout the country have sought to find a more effective approach."
Giloth says the book takes stock of the world of workforce intermediaries. "Workforce intermediaries help improve business productivity and help low-income individuals not just to find jobs, but to advance over time to jobs that enable them to support themselves and their families," he says.
The Ford Foundation also sponsored Training the Next Generation of Workers: The Win-Win of Workforce Partners, a conference to raise awareness of workforce intermediaries. The conference highlighted companies whose workforce needs already have been met by training programs offered at community colleges and by other workforce partners. For more information about the Ford Foundation's work in workforce intermediaries, visit www.winwinpartner.com. —G.J.