Launching the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps in Colorado, Indiana, and Rhode Island

A rapidly changing labor market requires new models for reducing unemployment and connecting workers from all backgrounds to quality jobs. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic and has only become more pressing since. In collaboration with the Markle Foundation and its Skillful Initiative, HR&A has helped conceptualize, design, and launch programs in Colorado, Indiana, and now Rhode Island, aimed at reshaping how employers recruit and train workers, and how the public sector, educators, and nonprofit organizations prepare jobseekers for gainful careers.

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, Skillful’s first implementation state, HR&A developed the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps, a first-in-the-nation leadership and service program that invests in frontline career coaching professionals, who are responsible for matching jobseekers with careers in growing industries. While Colorado has enjoyed one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, this low number masks the struggle of underemployed and chronically unemployed Coloradans, many of whom lack a bachelor’s degree and rely on career services at public workforce centers and other job placement providers. HR&A developed a program vision, high-level curriculum, timeline, staffing plan, and budget for the Coaching Corps, and oversaw recruitment and selection of the first 25 participants from public workforce centers, community colleges, and nonprofit service organizations. To design the program, HR&A engaged with State leaders, the directors of public workforce centers, and individual career coaches to understand the strengths and challenges of the existing coaching system. A principal element of the program design and marketing was conveying the value proposition of leadership development for career coaches, their supervisors, and the state at large. Then-Governor John Hickenlooper launched the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps in October 2017, after which HR&A supported the execution of three retreats over an eight-month period, providing program support and facilitating each event. The Corps is now in its third cohort and has supported nearly 90 coaches across the state.

Following the success of Skillful Colorado, HR&A supported the design and implementation of Skillful Indiana. To prepare for the Skillful Indiana launch in October 2018, HR&A engaged workforce development stakeholders, including the Governor’s Office, higher education institutions, employers, and foundations, to identify Indiana’s most pressing workforce challenges and collaborated with Skillful to design initiatives to tackle these issues. HR&A assisted with recruitment and hiring of key positions and developed a plan for implementation through 2019, including a budget and staffing plan. Among the programs launched in Indiana was a second Governor’s Coaching Corps, designed to serve cohorts of 35 career coaches who collectively serve 3,500 individuals per month, including dislocated workers, veterans, the underemployed and first-time jobseekers. The Coaching Corps recently completed its second cohort and has supported nearly 70 coaches to date. In addition, Skillful Indiana launched an online Skillful Coaching Community of Practice, a virtual community for Colorado and Indiana career coaches to network, share, and learn from one another.

In 2020, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and the Governor’s Workforce Board (GWB) launched Back to Work RI, a $45 million initiative to match thousands of Rhode Islanders looking for jobs with open positions at companies across the. state. Back to Work RI prioritizes connecting people with jobs who have lost employment due to COVID and/or face persistent barriers to employment due to discrimination against their educational background, criminal justice-involvement, and/or disabilities. The skills gap is made worse by degree inflation, an assumption among employers that skills are attached to a college degree, which then leads to a lack of income mobility. The GWB is seeking to implement Skillful’s approach to career coaching and skills-based recruitment, hiring, and retention practices among participating employers. HR&A is supporting Skillful to design a local version of the Coaching Corps that provides coaches with the training and support to be effective problem-solvers. A key part of the program will be work in action teams to tackle specific issues, such as how to engage rural jobseekers or best leverage online career resources, and develop potential policy solutions to pitch to State leadership. To support a program launch, HR&A is designing a blueprint that includes timelines, budgets, curricula, and evaluation metrics, as well as guidelines for the program launch, application process, and onboarding of new staff.

To date, the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps has supported 157 career coaching professionals, helping them work outside of silos and share resources to better assist jobseekers across organizations and regions in Colorado and Indiana. Skillful has begun catching up with career coaches to see how the Corps has impacted their careers, beginning with a member of the inaugural class of Indiana’s Corps, Brooklyn Burton of Ivy Tech Community College in Lafayette, IN. Skillful also continues to manage the larger virtual Coaching Community of Practice that engages upwards of 150 coaches in regular webinars to learn from one another and hone their work. To date, more than 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.