Many of the challenges facing our regions are not that unique from region to region. The difference-maker is whether and how a region’s leaders decide to work together to address these challenges in a positively impactful manner, and follow through on their commitments.
In the metro Atlanta region, this is exactly what began to happen when a small group of regional leaders started coming together during the summer of 2013 to discuss what was voiced by employers during the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative during 2011 and reported on during 2012 – the importance of having a workforce in this region that is more ready and aligned to meet employer needs in order to sustain and grow their operations. The initial group included representatives from Atlanta CareerRise (Dr. Cinda Herndon-King), the Atlanta Regional Commission (Mary Margaret Garrett), Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta (Todd Greene), Georgia Department of Economic Development (Blake Ashby, Ben Hames), Invest Atlanta (Dr. Eloisa Klementich), the Metro Atlanta Chamber (Chuck Meadows, Amy Lancaster), and the State Workforce Development Board (Wendell Dallas).
IDENTIFYING THE NEED
The partners discerned that while there was a lot of work happening to prepare the current and future workforce, there had been little coordination or collaboration in this work. And, they determined that, in order to better understand how the many players in the workforce development ecosystem can further align and work together to support employer needs, there must first be an understanding of who these players are, what they do, where and for whom. This inventory and mapping had not ever been done for the metro Atlanta region, and was agreed upon as a prerequisite for developing and strengthening relationships for working more effectively together.
Despite not having funding or an authoritative mandate, the small group of partners decided to start convening a larger group of influential leaders in the Atlanta region to work together in addressing this dilemma. In talking with external experts, they became acutely aware of the need to engage the right people on the ground floor of these efforts. Therefore, each partner focused significant attention toward reaching out personally to leaders across public, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors. Informally and initially convened by the Atlanta Fed, the larger group started meeting during the fall of 2013. The group elected to embark in a pilot project together that would help foster a greater understanding about the Atlanta region’s workforce development ecosystem.
THE PILOT PROJECT
The pilot project to inventory who was doing what, where, and for whom was launched in January 2014. Throughout the course of the project, the group stayed true to its grassroots origins. It was guided by a steering committee that eventually included representatives from more than 20 prominent organizations in the Atlanta region with a “stake” in the region’s workforce development. They championed the project, provided guidance and high level input to shape the pilot project along the way, and helped make connections when needed. Combined, steering committee members contributed hundreds of hours in volunteer support to ensure the project’s success.
To assist with these efforts, the partners engaged the University of Georgia to provide facilitation and management support for the group, the Atlanta Fed’s community and economic development team to handle data collection and analysis, and Neighborhood Nexus to develop a mapping solution for summarizing and illustrating the data. Staff from the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development – Workforce Division rounded out the project team. The group raised $80,000 in funding support for the project, and more than 1,000 hours of in-kind support was committed by the partners toward project execution. Project team members included Stuart Andreason, Mike Carnathan, Kelly Hill, Jenny Jang, Karen Leone de Nie, Whitney Mancuso, Margaret Miller, Kristina Morris, Robin Roberts, Joe Rondone, and Joy Wilkins.
The pilot project led to the development of the Atlanta region’s first provider portal.
THE GENESIS OF MAX
By the summer 2014, the pilot project efforts led to an even greater sense of shared purpose among the partners about working together. While the partners enjoyed their work together to build a new and innovative collaboration tool for the region, the efforts clearly yielded other benefits. Some of the partners recall meeting for the very first time through this joint work. Others shared how these efforts have aided or built support for other complementary efforts underway. And, having regular meetings created the opportunity to strengthen relationships and develop more meaningful connections.
Building on the collaborative work achieved through the pilot project, the partners decided to create a sustainable framework for continued partnership in the future and develop plans for engaging even broader participation in this work. With an eye toward working to building and strengthening relationships among a broader base of stakeholders those engaged in workforce development, they began jointly developing a vision, mission, and aspirations for future work together.
Through a series of iterative discussions, steering committee members agreed upon the value of creating an ongoing “exchange” among the partners and others involved in workforce development in the Atlanta region – and, saw the continued development of relationships as critical for aiding in this exchange. Capitalizing on the word “exchange,” the partners adopted a name to represent these efforts moving forward – the Metro Atlanta eXchange for Workforce Solutions, or MAX for short.
SPECIAL THANKS TO OUR FOUNDERS
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