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 Momss 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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