Frustrated by a siloed system including the many stakeholders who support low-skill learners and frontline workers, education leaders from South Lake Tahoe sought to find a better way to serve this population. Simultaneously, decision-makers in California decided to reimagine how they disperse and operate adult education funding. Whereas the state historically funded adult education providers directly, California began to issue Block Grants to local consortia representing cross-agency and cross-sector collaborations.
In 2014, leaders at Lake Tahoe Community College applied for this new type of grant to push their community to collaborate to make data-driven, personalized decisions about the programs that serve the community’s low-skill frontline workers. ADVANCE, housed at the community college, now serves as South Lake Tahoe’s consortium lead and collaborates with the community college, the K12 education system, other state- and federally-funded providers, nonprofit and faith-based providers, and employers to take a holistic approach to serving low-skill adults in the community.
Historically, South Lake Tahoe faced challenges common throughout the country: isolation among those who serve and employ frontline workers, a convoluted system that places all of the onus on those seeking support, and a system that is inaccessible to those who need it. The region has a reported workforce of about 11,600 people and an unemployment rate of 5.3 percent. The major industries in the region are accommodation, hospitality, and food services. According to interviews with general managers at resorts in the area, job vacancies can be as high as 50 percent, meaning employers need a talent pipeline that meets their needs. Similarly, interviews with ADVANCE staff and other local providers made it clear that there was a large population whose needs were not being met by the complicated web of social services available in the area. Moreover, these interviews highlighted that learners’ goals were not incorporated in the services and programs they received, excluding their voice from the system and reducing the likelihood that their career goals would be met through the available services. Combined, these insights paved the way to develop a cross-sector, cross-agency collaboration to holistically align education and training programs with workforce needs.
While a shared motivation for collaboration was clear, the question remained: How can the region better meet the needs of low-skill adults and employers in the area? The Director of ADVANCE, Frank Gerdeman, explained, “What we really wanted to bring to the community was this overarching case management support for adults. So when I think about adult learners, some of them might be receiving [multiple services]. Maybe they’re connected to mental health and maybe they’re connected to the county for job searches and employment training. Each one of those places has some form of case management. The thing that has always struck me in this work is that while those are great connections to support, the responsibility for holding those multiple pieces together falls on the adult who already needs support.”
Gerdeman theorized that, to improve the system, the community needed to develop an integrated data sharing system to streamline referrals across providers, offer job opportunities from local employers, and securely house individuals’ identifiable data for providers to personalize educational and workforce development programs, and for the learner to easily access their data to share with employers.
The first step to achieving this vision was to bring together the community’s stakeholders. The consortium knew that all key stakeholders needed to be involved in this effort to successfully change the system to better meet the needs of individuals and of the local economy. The ADVANCE team pulled together local providers and employers, including Beach Retreat and Lodge, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and the Tahoe Chamber of Commerce.
The ADVANCE team enthusiastically approached this vision and prioritized building relationships across the key stakeholders while clarifying the overlaps across stakeholders’ goals and needs. The consortium hosted in-person meetings with representatives from the local providers to better understand the community’s structure, needs, and strengths. Similarly, ADVANCE hosted in-person meetings with large local employers to articulate and communicate shared needs and goals and gain employer buy-in to invest in the future training opportunities.
At the same time, the consortium needed a technology system to set the foundation for data interoperability, starting with collecting data and managing referrals across providers. The ADVANCE team chose to work with CommunityPro Suite to house, manage, and collect data. The system provides data intake opportunities, enables providers to send referrals directly to other providers, and allows for the storage of follow-up information. The system also allows the appropriate organizations to view data entered on a specific individual. This reduces a major barrier: data duplication. Rather than requiring an individual to share personal information and answer the same questions over and over again, providers can access data already entered into the system, saving time for individuals and providers. This system streamlines providers’ process of identifying which services individuals are eligible for, and booking those meetings.
Based on the outcomes of the meetings with local providers and employers, the consortium understood there were several necessary action steps. It was clear that services needed to be streamlined, and that the services needed to transition from being system-based to being centered around the unique needs of individuals. Additionally, it was clear that services needed to align with industry needs.
To better streamline services, ADVANCE has campaigned for and supported other local providers to use the CommunityPro Suite. While many providers face a number of legal challenges around data privacy, ownership, and shared data agreements, the organizations who have been onboarded report significantly greater success with the easy-to-use referral system.
ADVANCE, in combination with the referral system they are building with CommunityPro Suite, has streamlined services so seamlessly that an adult learner we spoke with was unaware she was receiving services from multiple providers. Instead, it felt like a natural, collective group of providers working together to support her in achieving her professional and academic goals. She said, “Oh man, it’s been amazing. If there was something I needed or somewhere I wanted to go, I just talked to ADVANCE staff. They helped me all the way.”
Similarly, providers needed to find a way to focus on the individual, rather than the individual navigating alone through a complicated system. The team has concentrated on expanding the intake assessments individuals complete when they get started with ADVANCE. The consortium provides transition navigators who are responsible for initial data collection, relationship and trust building, and co-planning pathways to support the adult learners.
A staff member at ADVANCE explained, “We have this Registration, Assessment, and Planning Session, or “RAP” session. It’s a two-day process where we go through different assessments and learn what the person’s goals are. They get to learn more about ADVANCE and we get to start to build that relationship with them and create a pathway plan with them.” Gerdeman added, “Our navigators will help create and manage that personal pathways plan with each individual.” Based on that pathway plan, the navigators are able to use CommunityPro Suite to send referrals to the appropriate providers with whom the individual is eligible for services.
ADVANCE sees itself as an incubator for programs co-developed with local employers.
ADVANCE’s Tourism Industry Coordinator Josh Sweigert explained, “A big part of [ADVANCE’s] success has been leveraging different existing resources, whether it’s the Chamber of Commerce, different business counsels, the Lodging Association.” Gerdeman added that the relationships developed by Sweigert enable ADVANCE and providers to co-develop pilot programs, which ADVANCE can than incubate. For example, ADVANCE recently partnered with local hospitality employers to develop a 40-hour certification program for cooks. The skills and competencies at the core of the curriculum were identified as real needs by industry representatives.
The employers reported being thrilled with this pilot. A local resort’s General Manager explained, “We’re not just going to become extinct because we can’t find employees. We can actually control our own future, and give these frontline workers a career path.” ADVANCE proudly shared that because the industry helped develop the program, adults who earn a certificate receive preferential hiring. Additionally, many of the employers involved have agreed to specific and immediate hourly pay raises if an individual earned their certification. Some industry partners have gone as far as paying employees while they attend the training. Programs like this are especially valuable during the industry’s slower seasons.
ADVANCE is working with the theory of action that as stories of success grow and processes for data sharing are developed, more providers will join the system to share and manage data. Additionally, more employers will participate in program development and offer incentives to employees to participate in the programs. Gerdeman explained, “We are working diligently to bring on a couple of pilot employers to join the data-sharing world. We would love to have an HR director refer their employees to us if they need services. We want our nonprofit and county partners to do the same thing. Then our partners, including employers, become one of our primary referral mechanisms.”
Additionally, Gerdeman continues to stress the importance of relationship and trust building with adult participants, employers, and providers. He explained, “I think the engagement with the industry is critical. The follow through, the ability to deliver on what you say you’ll deliver, and listen to your partners. All those things made it possible for us to even purchase this system. It will eventually allow us to increase our implementation.”
The CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, Steve Teshara, echoed these sentiments: “I think it’s to build trust and build success so that people can say, ‘Hey, that works. That system works. I got employees that have been through that. They’ve improved their skills. I’m paying them more money. They’re happier, they’re better employees.’”
The South Lake Tahoe community provides several essential lessons to providing better, more accessible services to low-skill adults and frontline workers in any community, including:
Learn more about strategies to support frontline workers through Digital Promise’s Adult Learning initiative.