Working to Learn

By the Project on Workforce Team at the Harvard Kennedy School

Research October 25, 2021

Despite a growing set of innovators, America struggles to connect education and career

Working to Learn

As the structure and makeup of the American workforce shift, the education and training system has lagged behind the rate of economic change. Yet, there is a clear appetite among learners, workers, employers, and funders for new models of working and learning. The demand for new models has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Americans indicate more interest in pursuing non-degree options amid economic uncertainty and social distancing.1 As a result, organizations that train individuals for jobs are expanding, adapting, and attracting new attention.

We call this growing set of for-profit, non-profit, and public programs the “education-and-employment sector.” We use this term to be intentionally inclusive of organizations that straddle both the postsecondary education and employment sectors. Many of these new models are emerging from the world of start-ups and social entrepreneurship. These organizations often sit outside the confines of traditional K-12 and higher education systems, and therefore, have proven difficult for education data sources to capture. Though they employ diverse approaches, they share a common goal: to help more Americans achieve economic success through a combination of educational attainment and work experience.

In October 2019, New Profit, a venture philanthropy organization, announced a new initiative, Postsecondary Innovation for Equity (PIE). PIE was designed to support innovative organizations that are helping young people access “postsecondary education and work experience needed to access upwardly mobile careers.” Through an open application process, 316 organizations applied for unrestricted grants of $100,000 and capacity building support. 20 organizations were ultimately selected as winners.

Read the full analysis by the Harvard Kennedy School Project on Workforce Team.


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