Shifting Gears Overview
The United States faces an increasing gap between the skills possessed by its workforce and those that are necessary to succeed in the 21st century economy. This gap poses a threat to the financial wellbeing of low-skilled American workers and their families and to the nation’s long-term economic growth.
Recognizing the threat posed by these economic realities and demographic trends, the Joyce Foundation launched the Shifting Gears initiative to bolster efforts in six Midwest states to help working-age adults who need to expand their skills.
Over a five-year period starting in 2007, four of the six states adopted innovative strategies and changed policies to better serve low-skilled workers within adult basic education, workforce development and community and technical college systems.
One of the challenges facing the states had been that these systems have tended to operate independently, but Shifting Gears spurred them to work collaboratively. The result: creation of pathways for low-skilled adults to move easily from one system to the other – with the ultimate goal of obtaining marketable skills and postsecondary credentials.
About 4,000 low-skilled adults have enrolled in new programs across these four states, a modest number but one expected to grow considerably during the next several years as these innovative strategies are embraced more broadly.
Leaders in the states—representing adult basic education, workforce development, and community and technical college systems—have not yet fully achieved change across all these systems, nor were they expected to have done so by the end of the five-year Shifting Gears project. But their initial successes have put them on a positive trajectory towards this longer-term goal. These state leadership teams now face the challenge of expanding their successful yet presently small-scale programs, while ensuring that resources are available to maintain their long-term sustainability.