During 2009, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded 244 grants totaling $750 million through five solicitations, collectively aimed at preparing workers for careers in renewable energy, energy efficiency, healthcare, and other emerging industries. The grantees selected were diverse and included workforce boards, community colleges, community-based organizations, employer organizations, labor unions, state agencies, and others. The various strategies undertaken by the grantees to design and deliver their training programs in a range of industries were equally diverse.
Known to the grantees as the TA Partnership, the team was led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, and included as partners Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and Collaborative Economics, Inc. The question facing the technical assistance (TA) team engaged by USDOL was how to design an effective support strategy for more than 200 grantees. Given that technical assistance was starting well into the grant period (the TA Partnership was engaged about a year after the 2-3 year grants had begun), and that the grantees were different in both size and strategy, the TA Partnership developed and has operated from an explicit strategy intended to help grantees more effectively and efficiently meet their goals and outcomes. Key parts of the strategy included:
- Focusing on Critical Success Factors across all grantee types. The TA Partnership concluded that a way to provide strategic, contextual assistance to a large set of varied grantees was to focus them on a set of “Critical Success Factors.” The 7 factors chosen were: data driven decision making; employer engagement; partnership building; leveraging resource; participant support; policy alignment; and sustainable systems change. These factors form the Critical Success Factors Framework, a self-assessment tool made available for grantees to use in tracking their development in each factor. The Critical Success Factors comprise the basis of all TA work, from site-specific support, to group engagements, to tools for grantees to use on their own. An additional benefit of these factors is that they were effective for guiding all 5 types of grantee. The TA Partnership believed that succeeding on these factors sets the stage for sustainable systems change and better outcomes.
- Coupling technical assistance with substantial promising practices information. From the start, the TA Partnership team documented and disseminated promising practices from the grantee pool to complement technical assistance. The promising practices were deliberately organized by the Critical Success Factors. The promising practices formed a robust set of online information and publications, including grantee case studies and papers about key issues grantees are facing.
- Targeting customized technical assistance to grantees with the greatest needs. With over 200 grantees, the TA Partnership collaborated with USDOL to create a prioritization process for targeted technical assistance every quarter. Targeted grantees receive one-on-one focused technical assistance in addition to support provided to all grantees. Priorities were revisited each quarter.
- Providing multiple options for group technical assistance and learning. Early on, The TA Partnership asked the grantees to do a self-assessment of their initiative and the subjects/types of technical assistance they would find most valuable. The TA Partnership used that feedback to shape an ongoing mix of institutes, webinars, regular conference calls among each grantee set, regional meetings, and peer-to-peer connections among grantees to support their learning and decision-making. At every convening, the TA Partnership collaborated with relevant USDOL staff to address grant management issues, whether contract modifications, MIS issues, legal requirements, or other sticking points.
Grantees found the TA Partnership’s strategy to be effective at identifying their needs, providing just-in-time support, and making peer connections that help grantees learn from each other to keep their performance on track. If you’d like to learn more about our approach and the tools we’re using for providing TA, contact Taryn MacFarlane at firstname.lastname@example.org.