State Work-Based Learning Ecosystems are Closing the Skills Gap | Maher & Maher
Maher & Maher, an IMPAQ Company - Investment Advisors for Talent Development.

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State Work-Based Learning Ecosystems are Closing the Skills Gap

Determined to speed up efforts to close the skills gap, states are turning to work-based learning ecosystems as a more inclusive and coordinated structure to bring all stakeholders to the table. In a work-based learning ecosystem, partnerships of business, education, workforce development, and community organizations collaborate to prioritize opportunities, develop solutions, and implement sustainable training programs. Ecosystems align programs and resources to provide the full continuum of work-based learning, from career planning to internships to apprenticeship and more, to meet the talent needs of businesses.

Maher has identified the following common elements shared by states that are successfully implementing an ecosystem approach to work-based learning:

  • Leadership and stakeholders from all partners of the ecosystem collaborate to identify common goals, priorities, and responsibilities for outcomes.
  • Data and research combined with the expertise of each partner is used to identify opportunities and prioritize solutions.
  • Assets of the ecosystem are documented and used in strategic planning, decision-making, and implementation.
  • A governance model that includes a trusted convener, roles and responsibilities for partners, and a business plan for sustainability.
  • Consistent communication allows for collectively addressing challenges and opportunities, and a clear plan for keeping all partners informed and engaged.
  • Continuous improvement is accomplished by tracking and sharing publicly the progress on each priority and through partners collectively agreeing on improvement strategies.

The work-based learning ecosystem has similarities to other industry-led talent development initiatives. In fact, existing infrastructure such as sector partnerships and committees convened by chambers of commerce and workforce boards can be the foundation to build a work-based learning ecosystem. States and communities can leverage these existing efforts to embrace work-based learning as a long-term talent development solution.

Colorado has embraced a work-based learning ecosystem approach. Its TalentFOUND network of partners provides students, job seekers, workers, and businesses with access to career opportunities and talent resources. The network collaborates and evolves to incorporate relevant resources and to implement its work-based learning continuum – a set of hands-on activities that take place inside and outside the workplace. As noted above, continuous improvement is key. Lee Wheeler-Berliner, Managing Director of the Colorado Workforce Development Council, explains that, “We updated the continuum this year to include an activity required by Perkins V [reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act of 2006, or Perkins IV]. By updating the model, it can be used in a local program's Perkins plan, so we are enhancing coordination with CTE and minimizing duplication.”

Many states are building their work-based learning ecosystems by adopting a structured approach to developing apprenticeships. The ultimate working learner experience, apprenticeships embrace the full continuum of learning about work, learning through work, and learning at work, which requires the coordination of multiple stakeholders using the elements above. From this, states are building the foundation for strong modern apprenticeships in a variety of occupations from banking and IT to skilled trades and healthcare. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over 7 million job openings go unfilled every month. With over 7 million jobseekers who are not able to find jobs that align to their skillsets, we must do more.  Doing more means acting to integrate working learner strategies into education, training, and work at every level. Maher & Maher is developing integrated solutions for communities who want to tackle this challenge.

For more information about Maher & Maher’s work in supporting state systems integration and alignment to build working learner career pathways, please contact Stephanie Veck at

Maher & Maher, an IMPAQ Company, is a specialized change management and talent development consulting firm based in New Jersey and Washington, D.C. Maher works with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration and other federal agencies to provide technical assistance to the public workforce system, expand apprenticeship programs, and on other key workforce and education initiatives. Maher also partners with states and regions across the country on sector strategies, career pathways, work-based learning, regional planning, and organizational strategic planning and training initiatives. For more information about our services, visit or contact us.


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