14-1 Return Projected For Jobs Philanthropy

A $1 billion philanthropic investment into competency-based job training and higher learning could yield returns of up to 14-fold. The projection is part of The Bridgespan Group’s Billion Dollar Bets series.

The Boston, Mass.-based nonprofit advisor has noted a discrepancy in what philanthropists wish to change and where big-dollar donations tend to go, said Deborah Bielak, a partner at the organization. Bridgespan, in turn, developed 15 paths where billion-dollar investments could make large, measurable impacts, including six targets the consultants believe are worth digging into deeper.

The job training and career pathways report is the fourth in Bridgespan’s deep-dig series. Though returns are based on reasonable assumptions, projections are among the most ambitious in terms of potential impact, according to Bielak, who co-wrote the study. “A lot of this is about shared information and part of it is about changing career development programs,” she said.

The crux of the proposed investment is to turn education and job training toward being more career-competency driven. The first step would be to convene employers, educators and job-trainers in an effort to pinpoint skills necessary to perform well in a variety of different careers. From there, Bridgespan proposes several steps necessary to scale and spread gathered information — including funding regional partnerships between high schools, higher education institutions and employers to align public education with pathways to careers and supporting boot camps and alternative credentialing programs that are competency based.

The final piece to the puzzle would be lobbying for a closer relationship between higher education curricula and career-focused competency-based learning. Bridgespan projects about $60 million is needed to both convene relevant parties in the beginning and lobby for higher-education reform. The remainder of the hypothetical $1 billion-investment would go to sharing, scaling and building partnerships around gathered information.

The report’s projected return on investment of $7.3 and $14.7 billion is based on Social Genome Model estimates tying completed higher education to approximately $111,000 in increased lifetime earnings. Bridgespan projects that there are 2.2 million adults ages 18 to 44 with income less than or equal to 200 percent of the federal poverty line living in and around the country’s 15 largest cities. By targeting those regions, Bridgespan projects successfully providing 3 to 6 percent of those individuals with education and training that could increase the individuals’ total projected lifetime earnings by $7.3 to $14.7 billion.

Bielak said that the proposal is all about plugging gaps. The job market is filled with misinformation, she said, with employers having not articulated the skills they are looking for, job-seekers in the dark regarding what opportunities are out there and how to prepare for them and education providers unsure how to train future workers. By providing this next level of clarity, the hope is to even the job playing field.

The report’s findings and recommendations amplify existing conversations happening across the country, she said. Public outcry questioning the value of a college education is ongoing as individuals struggle to find work and unemployment rates skew disproportionately toward minorities.

Partnerships have already formed at the local level around necessary job skills. ACT Foundation’s business roundtable is one example of Bridgespan’s proposed model already in action, according to Bielak. “It’s really ripe for investing,” she said. “Higher education is very dynamic. Workforce development is very dynamic. As with other issues, it’s conflated with race and income.”

Billion Dollar Bets are intended to inspire philanthropy and show potential quantifiable results, according to Bielak. The final two deep-dig reports are slated to come out this autumn.