Designing a Leadership and Training Program for Career Coaches

Skillful is helping transform local labor markets by building the capacity of frontline coaches in the Colorado workforce system.


Colorado enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but this low number masks the struggle of underemployed and chronically unemployed Coloradans. Some of the most vulnerable are the estimated 62% of Coloradans who do not have a bachelor’s degree. To connect workers with quality jobs, the Skillful Initiative works with states to develop labor markets that value skills and training over degrees or other proxies for qualifications. In Colorado, the team engaged HR&A to develop a program that would build the capacity of career coaches in public workforce development centers, community colleges, high schools, and career service non-profits across the state to better connect job seekers with quality career paths.


To understand Colorado’s most pressing labor market challenges, we interviewed over 40 workforce development professionals. We realized that Colorado had fundamental workforce issues, such as the disconnect between workforce centers and higher education, and struggles to engage rural populations. Based on Skillful’s prior work, we also knew that the insights of front-line career coaches—individuals serving as a first point of contact for job seekers in career offices across the state—could be instrumental in devising solutions that would actually confront on-the-ground, systemwide challenges.


With this knowledge, we started designing a program to provide the most dedicated career coaches with the training and support to be effective problem solvers for the state. We collaborated with workforce development experts to design a relevant and practical curriculum that built leadership and analytical skills, while ensuring that coaches could make significant contributions to the workforce development system. A key part of the program is their work in action teams to tackle specific issues, such as how to engage rural job seekers or best leverage online career resources, and develop potential policy solutions to pitch to State leadership. Apart from content development, we also ensured that Skillful could confidently run the program by designing a blueprint that included timelines, budgets, curricula, and evaluation metrics—as well as guidelines for the program launch, application process, and onboarding of new staff.



In 2017, Colorado’s Governor launched the Governor’s Coaching Corps with Skillful and the Markle Foundation. The corps selected 25 career coaches to participate in the inaugural program and create policy ideas that were presented to state leaders for potential implementation. Now, career coaches are working outside of silos and sharing resources to better assist job seekers across organizations and regions in Colorado. The corps launched a larger virtual community of practice that engages upwards of 150 coaches across the state in regular webinars to learn from and contribute to the work of the corps in devising policy solutions. To date, 20 governors across the United States have also pledged to implement a version of the Coaching Corps in their states as part of the Markle Foundation’s Skillful State Network.