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Research on high-impact workforce development nonprofits in Minnesota!

March 14th, 2011 by dawn Leave a reply »

We are expanding our research to Minnesota! The Minnesota Community Foundation and the Saint Paul Community Foundation are partnering with Philanthropedia to bring our methodology to their community. Through this partnership, we hope to identify nonprofits that are doing outstanding work in the areas of workforce development and the environment in Minnesota.

The purpose of this blog post is to explain:

  1. Why we think workforce development is an interesting area to research in Minnesota
  2. What are some of the nuances of the issue area that helped us decide what type of nonprofits we ought to include in our research

…so you can understand what we considered as we refined our thinking about the research.

If you are an expert in workforce development in Minnesota, you should have received an email from us with a link to our survey and we hope you will share your perspective and insights with us! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact me at

Additionally, I’m sure I haven’t been able to capture every nuance in this sector, so I invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might think about this work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, I hope you will learn something new and tune in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!

These findings were a result of interviewing seventeen influential experts in the field. I want to thank them for their time in sharing their expertise with me.


The workforce development field is focused on helping people get the skills and the jobs they need to sustain themselves and their family, and connecting employers who need skilled workers. This is usually talked about in the terms of supply and demand.

Workforce development is a continuum of economic development. Economic development is usually defined as providing capital, infrastructure, skilled workers, and other factors to attract and maintain businesses in an area. However, this is beyond the scope of our research, so we will only focus on workforce development.

Definitions of Supply and Demand:

Supply (the worker): This part of workforce development is about building the skills of workers, training workers, giving workers access to the resources they need to connect them with jobs or training, providing education or continuing education through university, community college, or alternative education routes, providing technical training and credentialing programs, moving people to work, helping people with job retention and stability, and helping people advance to better jobs.

Demand (the business): This part of workforce development is about creating new jobs, helping businesses develop positions that have potential career ladders within for workers, encouraging businesses to train and develop their employees or provide businesses with services to train their employees.

As a result, business needs (such as type of skills and type of industry) informs the curriculum developed for many of the programs. For example a lot of the training programs are tailored to the most important industries in Minnesota for workforce development, such as manufacturing, agriculture/food processing, health care, electronics (especially medical devices), renewable energy (especially wind and solar energy), health care, transportation, and finance. Within Minnesota, there is an increasing focus on providing education, job training, and certificate programs to help workers acquire the job they desire.

It is also important to note that workforce development is not only about acquiring skills but also about access to jobs. The Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC recently released a study about unemployment by metropolitan area and race. The black-white unemployment ratio in the Minneapolis metropolitan area was three times the white rate, which was one of the highest in the nations (Source). This problem is currently being approached by organizations from a policy and educational standpoint.

Minnesota has a huge population of new immigrants. Many of the new immigrants prefer to start their own businesses rather than plug into the existing industry infrastructure. As a result, we are also including small business development and entrepreneurship training as a component of our research.

From our interviews we have identified the following types of organizations that work in this field, and have invited experts in each of these categories to share their perspective with us:

  1. Funders: National foundations funding in Minnesota, local foundations, corporate foundations, community foundations, the state and local governments.
  2. Education Institutions: Community and technical colleges, and other organizations that provide career education.
  3. Community Based Organizations and Service Providers: Nonprofits that provide services to connect individuals with resources (education, training, networks, employers, career centers, etc.), or nonprofits that run businesses which employ people for job training (social enterprises).
  4. Advocacy Organizations
  5. Labor Unions
  6. Business and Industry Associations, Chambers of Commerce
  7. Technical Assistance Providers
  8. Alternative Staffing Agencies
  9. Research and Policy Organizations

These organizations could be focused on job training, job placement, access to jobs, youth work readiness, small business development and entrepreneurship training for people with lack of access to jobs, job retention/stability, and helping employers invest in their own workforce, etc. These nonprofits might work with various populations: adults wishing to gain additional skills, immigrants, youth (around career education), adults or youth with disabilities, refugees, welfare recipients, elders, homeless people, formerly imprisoned people, businesses, or the community at large. And these nonprofits might focus on different kinds of activities: policy, research, advocacy, direct services, education, technical assistance, social enterprise (nonprofits that run businesses which employ people for job training), etc.  Specifically excluded from consideration are for-profit community/technical colleges, chambers of commerce, government agencies, labor unions, and for-profit organizations such as head hunting and for-profit job placement companies.

These are just a summary of my notes after having talked to seventeen experts in the workforce development field. What do you think? What have I missed? What might you add? Please feel free to leave a comment and help build on these notes.


  1. Anna says:

    As someone who has gone through the workforce education program with more ease than some of my out-of-work colleagues, I would make a case that other government entities need to work better with WorkForce Development.

    Just like you can waive the UIMN requirement to look for work if you are completing an education program, welfare and other benefit programs should also encourage people to get more education.

    Wouldn’t it be better to accept paying for benefits IF someone is in a specific program with an end date through Workforce Development rather than expect a person to take ANY job, even one with such a low pay that they remain on some form of government benefit for years?

    Education not only helps people find jobs, it often times provides a higher salary and allows people to contribute back in taxes more than what they have received in benefits.

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