MINNEAPOLIS ST. PAUL REGIONAL WORKFORCE INNOVATION NETWORK (2013-2020)
In 2013, MSPWin was established as a funders’ collaborative comprised of eight philanthropic organizations, eventually expanding to 13 local and national organizations, committed to strengthening the workforce in the seven-county Minneapolis Saint Paul region.
Vision: A prosperous and equitable region where businesses have the skilled workers they need to compete and all adults have the opportunity to participate in the workforce and advance toward family-sustaining wages.
MSPWin was established because Minnesota’s current workforce system needed to be modernized to better connect potential workers to the needs of businesses. As a solution, MSPWin supported data driven approaches to:
- Expand successful career pathways programs
- Create standardized outcome reporting and evaluation
- Engage employers in workforce development
MSPWin was established with the intent of sunsetting after seven years of operation. In keeping with the initial intent, MSPWin ceased operations at the end of 2020. Over the course of seven years, MSPWin invested $9 million in workforce development in Minnesota, alongside another $75 million in investments from its member funders during the same time period.
Early on, MSPWin recognized a need and gap in the current workforce system: To connect employer demand with supply of diverse workers, and to address employment and income disparities. The funders collaborative focused on getting more Minnesotans, especially populations of color and indigenous peoples (POCI), onto career paths and connected to Minnesota businesses.
Learn more about MSPWin
MSPWIN Retrospective Report
The economic and employment crisis that followed on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 had deep ramifications across our region. In workforce development, these combined crises highlighted the disproportionate impacts and inequity in income, work and opportunity. As we chart our recovery, it is essential that we learn from recent history and approach workforce development with a focus on providing our available workforce with the skills employers will need.
Looking back over MSPWin’s body of work, key themes emerged regarding the unique role of the organization, its strategic approach to systemic reform, and its significant impact on the overarching regional workforce conversation.
MSPWin has played a leadership role in policy development and advocacy at the state and regional level. Through its thought-leadership, research and advocacy the need for systems change in the public sector workforce system is now widely acknowledged across many sectors including business, government, philanthropy and organizations that engage in workforce development. Learn more in the evaluation report 'Improving the Workforce System with a Big Picture Approach and an Equity Lens.'
MSPWin Primary Strategies
Career Pathways are a proven way to connect potential workers to available jobs with sustainable wages. MSPWin supported career pathways as the most efficient way to combine basic skills instruction, training and comprehensive support to empower people to advance through the workforce to meet employer’s critical needs.
Programs are flexible to meet the specific needs of regions, industries and individuals, but all programs have three guiding principles:
- Employer involvement aligning training with necessary job-skills, and placement after pathway completion.
- Coordination between local labor market information, training and market needs.
- Flexibility to allow individuals to enter and exit the program based on their needs, and creative solutions like stacking credentials, all building toward a successful career.
Career pathways effectively combine basic skills instruction, training, and comprehensive support that help empower people to advance through the workforce to meet employer’s critical needs. MSPWin advocated for prioritizing state resources on career pathways to have the biggest impact for our most in need adults.
of career pathways participants
completed college credit or credentials
who completed career pathways gained related employment
more career pathway participants
bypassed remedial education as compared to Adult Basic Education students
The success of Career Pathways is due to a commitment by employer partners and employment and training providers to provide:
- Seamless integration of service. By blending social services, basic skills education and technical training at colleges — usually offered separately — the best Career Pathway programs increase the likelihood of skill attainment and self-sufficiency. They also enable cost sharing, making services and tuition free for participants.
- Personal navigators. By providing every student with individualized help to complete coursework and overcome personal challenges, Career Pathway programs help participants overcome roadblocks that stop many traditional students.
- Focus on target populations. Programs enable low-income adults, particularly communities of color, to get on a path to careers with family-sustaining wages. By focusing on adults out of the workforce or those receiving public benefits, Minnesota gets a high return on investment by reducing those benefit payments and increasing tax receipts.
Standardized Outcome Reporting
In 2013 and 2014, MSPWin worked to pass standard outcome measures and ensure all government funded workforce programs are reported to DEED’s online report card. Before MSPWin, there was not one standard or transparent reporting mechanism and outcome measures varied by program. MSPWin advocated with legislators and state leaders to use these outcome results in making more effective, data-driven investment decisions.
Engage Employers in Workforce Development
Employer engagement is necessary for the success of career pathways. In Minnesota, MSPWin funded and advocated for a Sector Skills Academy to advance the adoption of business-led sector strategies. This report includes links to the curriculum and forward-looking recommendations.
In addition, MSPWin supported several successful sector strategies including one with the construction industry workforce system led by Saint Paul College, the Minnesota Building Trades Council and Associated General Contractors of Minnesota.
- F. R. Bigelow Foundation
- Greater Twin Cities United Way
- The Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota
- JPMorgan Chase
- The Joyce Foundation
- McKnight Foundation
- The Minneapolis Foundation
- Northwest Area Foundation
- Otto Bremer Foundation
- Pohlad Family Foundation
- Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation
- Thrivent Financial
- Wells Fargo Foundation
Success and Impact
College Readiness Academy
MSPWin granted the International Institute of Minnesota’s College Readiness Academy an initial $400,000 to develop intensive instruction and college preparation through classes, sector-specific training and intensive navigation to their students free of charge. Partners on the grant included Hubbs Center, Neighborhood House, and Saint Paul College. MSPWin provided additional funding based on the outcomes of this approach.
With MSPWin’s support, the impact of the program from 2015-2020 included:
- 231 students bypassed developmental education courses
- 169 CRA graduates were in college and served by CRA navigators; the average GPA for CRA graduates who enrolled in college was above 3.50
- CRA navigators helped 102 students apply for at least one college scholarship; 56 of those students earned 90 scholarship awards, totaling $111,256
- On average, each CRA student saved $946.16 in tuition by bypassing developmental education classes
- According to an Improve Group evaluation conducted in April 2019 (funded by MSPWin), CRA students were more likely to stay in college and graduate (92 percent) than their peers enrolled in developmental education (60 percent)
- The Improve Group evaluation also indicated that most CRA students reported that they were confident and motivated to go to college: 51 percent of current CRA students felt completely confident to attend college and 31 percent felt moderately confident; 71 percent of former CRA students felt completely confident while 29 percent felt moderately confident
Because of this success, MSPWin and International Institute of Minnesota advocated for additional funding to support successful programs like these around the state.
Career Pathways Success Stories
MEKUANENT KASSA had just arrived in Washington, D.C., from Ethiopia, when 9/11 happened. The experience informed his deep patriotism.
“I love the way you can just change your life in this country, and living here changed a lot of things for me,” he says. Despite Washington, D.C. having the largest concentration of Ethiopians in the U.S., Mekuanent said he immediately preferred Minnesota when he first visited. “I like the generosity of the people. I didn’t have winter clothes and people here wherever I go, they help you out, they give you directions.”
He tried going to college but found himself in a cycle of “work, pay, work, pay, work, pay” and owing $6,500 but with no degree or good job in sight. Then he got a break and found his Career Pathway.
Mekuanent had enjoyed taking care of his grandparents in Ethiopia and discovered through career assessments at the International Institute that he was a good fit for a nursing program. He advanced through the International Institute’s College Readiness Academy, obtaining enough language instruction and coursework to become a nursing assistant. Since then he’s been on a steady progression, working at nursing homes and hospitals while picking up a Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) degree from Saint Paul College. He continues to take courses in his quest to acquire a Registered Nursing (RN) degree. Mekuanent now earns about $22 an hour working part-time while attending school when he can.
REGINA WILSON enjoys her work at an assisted living facility for older adults in Columbia Heights. At 40, she’s finally earning better pay and benefits than she’s ever had, and at a convenient location just an easy bus ride from her apartment. She happily declares: “I’m in love with health care and I love helping people.”
Wilson was in desperate straits in late 2015. She was living in a shelter in north Minneapolis with her daughter LaShae, now 12. Wilson had worked in various health care settings, but she lacked college credits or credentials that satisfied employers. When she met the people at the Anoka County WorkForce Center, Regina said, “It was like a new family.”
Regina went through an initial ‘Career Assessment & Exploration’ course that evaluated and instructed her on soft skills such as time management, communication and goal-setting, and provided tips on how to be a successful student. The course focused on workplace expectations and included tours of potential employers.
Wilson said her introductory course was a revelation. “What was most useful to me was the website showing jobs I didn’t know existed in health care, that they made so much money and that they were near where I lived. ... I was excited, and it got me thinking about what I really wanted to do.” Wilson mastered the college-level courses she was assigned and, partly because of previous experience in health care jobs, she breezed through the practical certification exam to be a nursing assistant.
Regina now has her sights on getting credentialed for dispensing medication, and she discovered that she really loves working with seniors. “It’s been great, a blessing, considering where I came from,” Regina says. “I feel empowered that I have a career now, and not just a job.”