This post is part of a blog series highlighting promising practices from the New Skills ready network, an initiative of JPMorgan Chase & Co. For more information about the initiative, please see the bottom of this post.
For this post, Senior Policy Associate Dan Hinderliter interviewed Indiana State CTE Director Anthony Harl and Ascend Indiana Vice President and Co-founder Stephanie Bothun about driving intentional connections between state and local partners. In Indiana, the Office of Career and Technical Education (CTE) is embedded in the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet (GWC), which serves as the state’s workforce board. Ascend Indiana (Ascend) is an initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and acts as a non-profit talent and workforce development intermediary connecting education and industry.
Building Systems Around Common Goals
One major component of the New Skills ready network is a focus on systems-level change involving a variety of stakeholders at both the state and local levels. The Office of CTE in Indiana naturally sits at the intersection of education and work, but the creation of the GWC in 2018 and the subsequent move of the Office of CTE underneath the umbrella of the GWC further allowed the Office of CTE to have a foot in the talent development space and a foot in education. This change spurred many of the partnership conversations that may not have sparked otherwise. The New Skills ready network subsequently sparked an official partnership between the Office of CTE and more local partners, like Ascend.
While state-level initiatives were designed to be relatively independent, both the Indiana Office of CTE and Ascend were clear that participation in and development of these initiatives were about building a larger ecosystem to create linkages and build relationships that support young people on their education and career path. Though Ascend and the Office of CTE did not have an initial objective of an intentional partnership, they quickly connected over a shared understanding of a core mission – that all young people in Indiana, especially those from underrepresented and underserved populations, have access to the skills and pathways that allow them to get to postsecondary or in-demand training opportunities, ultimately as a route to the career they want.
Review of Indianapolis outcomes data revealed further CTE completion and postsecondary attainment gaps that disproportionately affect Latinx and Black learners, illustrating specific needs in the Indianapolis community that Bothun, Harl, and other New Skills ready network team members knew needed to be addressed.
This mutual touchstone allows for open and regular conversations that build between and across initiatives. In turn, this creates a connection, coordination, and cohesion between stakeholders working towards this similar goal and objective. Because partners are often the same on different state initiatives, conversations from one initiative carry across other conversations. The trust and goodwill built through collective work toward common goals allows each initiative and project to be successful as each partner recognizes the commitment each other partner has toward the overarching goal.
“It’s about a web of connections and networking – a really passionate group of individuals that are all trying to, through their own little niche, just make things better for Indiana.” – Anthony Harl, State CTE Director, Indiana Governor’s Workforce Cabinet
Since this initial partnership developed through the New Skills ready network, Ascend and the Office of CTE have collaborated on quite a few other initiatives to solve specific problems connected to this core mission. Ascend was already building out programs around modern youth apprenticeship; as a result of existing work and new relationships, Ascend was able to connect directly to statewide apprenticeship initiatives and help support whole-scale progress at the state level. Ascend also now helps organize and collaborate with the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet on a statewide youth apprenticeship community of practice, initiatives around career advising, and on federal Department of Labor grants. They have also previously collaborated on a state-wide subcommittee to provide recommendations to support work-based learning.
Both local and state leaders realize that while individual challenges of overhauling career pathways, improving equity in CTE programs, or creating statewide modern youth apprenticeship programs might be overwhelming, collaborations between partner levels allow teams to tackle issues collectively. As a naturally positioned convener of these groups, the Office of CTE can regularly help inform on who is best positioned to take on what work across the state. Because of their long-standing role in education and workforce development, the state can also provide historical context to many of the challenges, including what work has been tried before and what stakeholders had previously been consulted. The GWC also has a more comprehensive understanding of what work is in whose locus of control including what policy or funding levers can be activated or who can best be mobilized to take on specific workstreams and can provide insight into scalability and feasibility for larger scale initiatives.
“We’ve rallied to this point in our community, we all know the problems are too big for anybody to solve individually. And it’s really been such a powerful motivator, I think for all of us to say, ‘What are all the ways we’re collectively tackling these issues, maybe from slightly different lenses?’” -Stephanie Bothun, Ascend Indiana
On the other hand, local groups like Ascend can provide specific insight into implementation, including what works well in a pilot, what specific resources might need to be developed or what unforeseen challenges are arising. This interplay allows for expanded collaboration around all areas and facilitates progress that would not otherwise have been possible independently.
Successful Strategies and Lessons Learned
As part of the conversation, Bothun and Harl shared a few key strategies for developing and maintaining the partnerships and communicated some takeaways for other states and local partners working to build better partnerships of their own:
- While natural collaboration is possible, an initial spark is necessary. Federal law, like the Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment component of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), or grant-funded initiatives like the New Skills ready network require cross-level collaborations. It’s often these mandated conversations that provide the impetus for collaboration. As state leaders create programs or initiatives, building in components that require stakeholders to have regular, collective conversations can be the spark that an initiative needs to begin the partnership process.
- Partnerships are relational, not transactional. Participating in these conversations and collaborations requires a recognition that one group is unable to do everything alone. This means showing up, participating, and demonstrating commitment to the work. Both Bothun and Harl reiterated that explicit and demonstrated investment of one’s time, energy and expertise indicates to other partners that a stakeholder is committed, which in turn brings others more wholly into the project.
- Constant communication is key. Regular communication efforts not only help exhibit the commitment of a group to an initiative, but also help those stakeholders be proactive about upcoming work. Open communication channels can further be a way of remaining transparent about delays, removing surprises, or easing barriers to difficult to access information, like student data.
- Partnership means a shared value add for both parties. In order for both partners to fully commit to the work, there must be a demonstrated value add, whether that’s pushing to bring a greater visibility to others work, aligning objectives on other projects, or even just challenging one’s thinking.
Dan Hinderliter, Senior Policy Associate
About the Blog Series
In 2020, JPMorgan Chase & Co. launched the New Skills ready network across six domestic sites to improve student completion of high-quality career pathways with a focus on collaboration and equity. As a national partner in the New Skills ready network, Advance CTE strives to elevate the role of state capacity and resources in advancing project priorities and gain a unique perspective on promising practices to strengthen state-local partnerships across the country.
This blog post continues a series that highlights innovative tools and initiatives produced across Boston, Massachusetts; Columbus, Ohio; Dallas, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Nashville, Tennessee, that advance the initiative’s four key priorities and serve as a guide for state leaders in their work to create cohesive, flexible and responsive career pathways.
For more information about the New Skills ready network, please visit our Learning that Works Resource Center.