Marano Fellows Class of 2014
Name: Rachel Pleasants McDonnell

Senior Project Manager, Building Economic Opportunity Group


Jobs for the Future

Location: Boston, MA
Industry Sector: IT, Healthcare, Manufacturing

Organizational Background & Mission: Founded in 1983, Jobs for the Future began as a regional nonprofit working with a few states to assess their workforce needs—helping employers find skilled workers, and helping workers move into higher-wage jobs. Today, JFF works to expand the college, career, and life prospects of low-income youth and adults across 25 states. Building on 30 years of experience, JFF works to fix all “leaks” along the education-to-career pipeline. Within JFF, the Building Economic Opportunity Group focuses on helping underprepared students to earn postsecondary credentials, low-skilled workers to advance, and employers to thrive though a range of strategies, including:

  • Changing how Adult Basic Education is taught to accelerate skills development for underprepared adults and guide them into postsecondary programs that yield credentials with high labor market value.
  • Helping colleges structure career pathways for their students to follow, based on what skills and credentials are in the highest demand locally, as determined by analyzing realtime and traditional labor market information.
  • Forging regional partnerships between employers and education/training providers to train and advance workers, as well as deepen employers’ talent pools.
  • Working with hospitals to invest in the continuing education, certification, and advancement of their frontline workers through work-based learning programs.

Interest in Sector Work: Sector work is critical to how JFF approaches its mission. Much of our work focus on creating systemic change so that workers can access good jobs and employers can find the talent they need to remain competitive. We have been engaged in a number of sector-focused initiatives over the years, including healthcare (Jobs to Careers), green jobs (Greenways), and manufacturing. In all our initiatives, we work to foster better use of labor market information and deeper employer engagement.

JFF recently received a grant from JP Morgan Chase Philanthropy to be part of its “New Skills at Work” initiative. This major initiative is a place-based approach to linking education and workforce development with economic growth; the goal is to address the persistent gap between the skills employers need and the skills jobseekers possess. Over the next five years, JFF will work with stakeholders in five cities to craft sector approaches to improving the education to economic opportunity pipeline.

Personally, I am motivated by the need for more systemic approaches to creating economic opportunity for all citizens (and especially underserved populations) and in particular, to better connect the fields of education/training, workforce development, and economic development.