Integrating Executive-Skills Building Into Workforce Programs

Posted January 12, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Young people being trained for the workforce

Photo credit: Anjali Pinto for New Moms

New resources funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation offer insights on an approach to workforce development that seeks to strengthen young people’s executive skills — the cognitive abilities needed to set goals, develop plans and follow through on them.

The resources — a case study, tool kit and video — draw on the nonprofit New Moms’s efforts to incorporate executive-skills building into its programs that help young mothers in the Chicago area gain job skills, support a family and find quality housing.

Learn about how other programs have integrated executive-skills building

Research suggests that key brain development occurs in childhood and early adulthood and that executive skills, such as organization, time management and emotional control, can be improved with practice in that time.

“Building executive skills can help young people as they seek to start careers and plan for their futures,” says Allison Gerber, a senior associate at the Casey Foundation. “We’d like to see more workforce programs consider including strategies that support the development of these skills as a part of their approaches.”

The case study, Implementing an Executive Skills Approach: Insights for the Field, starts with a summary of the key components of New Moms’s work, which includes:

  • introducing environmental modifications, or changes to work-related materials, physical spaces, procedures, policies or processes to make tasks easier to complete;
  • building executive-skills knowledge by asking employees to explore their strengths and weaknesses in accomplishing goals, planning and organization, among other things;
  • coaching participants to help ensure they meet their objectives;
  • tracking goals so that progress is made on both short- and long-term objectives; and
  • using incentives to entice participants to improve performance and gain new skills.

The document then provides examples for how New Moms has integrated these elements into its work. For instance, through workshops and assessments, New Moms has asked participants to gauge their strengths and weaknesses in executive skills and build plans to improve. Coaches have then worked to hold them accountable.

The case study ends with key insights for integrating executive-skills building, including:

  • participants must be allowed to openly discuss their challenges with executive skills without shame, as it helps coaches provide necessary support;
  • participants’ short-term goals should be emphasized and tracked to help build confidence and motivation as participants pursue bigger objectives;
  • many environmental changes — such as posting helpful signage or removing distractions at the work site — are cheap, easy and fast to implement; and
  • incentives don’t need to be expensive or complicated but can include small celebrations, shout-outs or title changes that look impressive on a resume.

To help workforce staff blend executive-skills building into their work, the Executive Skills Implementation Toolkit includes various items, such as surveys, checklists and other resources meant to jumpstart the process. A readiness assessment, for instance, offers suggestions for implementing executive-skills building based on how prepared programs are to move forward given the support of organizational leadership and staff, among other things.

“We hope these resources give workforce practitioners a starting point for integrating coaching, goal-setting and other strategies that teach these vital skills,” Gerber says. “Along with other supports, executive skills can be an important component in helping people — especially young people — navigate their professional obligations and family lives.”

Watch a video about New Moms’ approach

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