Our work


Achieving the Promise of Work (website)

Changes in work are driving economic, social, cultural and political uncertainties – uncertainties that can tear at the fabric of civil societies. The origins can be local, national or even global, but the effects are felt personally. Success is defined in terms of cost savings and shareholder value. New technologies are deployed across entire industries. At the same time, programs to improve the lives of workers and their families are place-based or focused on individual needs. They cannot fly into the headwinds of decisions and events that transcend boundaries and local markets. They alone cannot achieve systemic improvements. They necessarily must be connected by broad networks in order to achieve systemic results.

Policies that affect the many futures of work need to be informed by the wants, needs, desires, ideas and opinions shared around kitchen tables and family events, at barber shops and beauty salons, at community gatherings, on shop floors, in places of worship, and in offices. These policies need to be the subject of public forums where diverse opinions are invited and respected. Our path forward is to support, empower, capture and report conversations that occur in these settings, to foster cutting edge research and policy thinking, and to engage leaders in business, labor, government, education and civic society in forward-leaning collaborations that are aimed at Achieving the Promise of Work for workers, their families, and their communities.

The Achieving the Promise of Work Partnership

The Partnership is comprised of the Institute, non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations, academic and research institutions, unions, business associations, and philanthropic institutions with a mission to:

  • Advance equitable policies and practices that lead to successful and satisfying careers

  • Grow innovative enterprises that derive their strengths from the collective efforts and cumulative learning of its workers

  • Achieve inclusive and equitable community economic, social and cultural benefits regardless of place or status, and

  • Grow successful participatory democratic institutions.

Many Futures of Work: Possibilities and Perils (2017 conference website)

Achieving the Promise of Work evolves from the Institute’s 2017 conference, The Many Futures of Work: Possibilities and Perils, where we brought together people from across a broad spectrum of interests and expertise to address the factors driving the diminution of middle-income jobs. Working together, we arrived at policies and practices that proposed to transform the current trajectory away from low-wage, unstable jobs and towards jobs that lead to greater prosperity and inclusion.

The 2017 conference was – and continues to be – a departure from other public conversations and conferences on changes in the structure of work and the factors driving change. These events mostly involve policy makers, academic researchers, and well-represented interest groups, and have little more than token participation by communities of people who are experiencing first-hand the consequences of changes in work structures. Too often, workers are objectified (and their agency denied), and policymaking is made inaccessible and remote.

State Collaborative Consortium to Understand and Support the On Demand Workforce

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Institute in undertaking an ongoing multi-state collaborative project is supporting state efforts to understand and analyze the on-demand economy and take swift action to identify and implement policies to support economic opportunity for on-demand workers.

The project is funded by Walmart, Inc. and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Illinois State Toll Highway Authority

The Institute is supporting ConstructionWorks, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority’s efforts to develop and implement a program to diversify the composition of workers in the construction industry generally, and for workers engaged by contractors to the Authority. The initiative extends the northern third of the State of Illinois and is administered by Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership.

The Institute is also conducting a series of case studies of well-regarded pre-apprenticeship programs. The case studies project will:

  • Describe the structure and outcomes of several selected pre-apprenticeship programs, mostly in the construction industry

  • Provide recommendations for principles and standards to guide the development, implementation and evaluation of pre-apprenticeship programs in construction.

  • Establish a community of practice of pre-apprenticeship programs in construction that may be grown to include other industries to foster the development and continuous improvement in pre-apprenticeships.

  • Assist in the development of funding resources for pre-apprenticeships, leveraging the value of pre-apprenticeships in improving the diversity of workers in related occupations.

  • Inform the workforce system and other stakeholders regarding the connection of well-designed and well-implemented pre-apprenticeship programs to successful apprenticeships and employment.

Midwest Innovation Initiative

The Institute led an 18-month initiative of the Great Lakes Employment and Training Association and Midwestern state workforce agencies under the leadership of the Workforce Development Division of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The project examined the collective future workforce needs of the Midwest in order to better align the area's human resources development strategies with research and development investments, innovations in core industries, and with business investments that further the region's global competitive advantages. The goals were to:

  • Maximize the competitive advantages of the region; Instill a culture of entrepreneurship and investment in R&D

  • Establish a virtuous cycle of regional investment and economic growth with workforce development as a lead element.

The Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor funded the project.

Other Projects

New App for Manufacturing in America: The Institute was the principal evaluator as a subcontractor to the University of Illinois at Chicago on an evaluation of a project of the Tri-Rivers Workforce Investment Board in Pittsburgh. Tri-Rivers is supporting the development and implementation of an apprenticeship initiative in advanced manufacturing that joins area small manufacturers with dislocated workers. This project concluded in 2015.

Northeastern Illinois Research Talent Asset Map: The objective of the project was to create a comprehensive database of the intellectual resources of Chicago metro area universities and make it available through a web-based platform. This demonstration project resulted in a resource that enabled users to find comprehensive academic profiles of participating faculty, access a complete searchable database of their research, and display a global map of their research collaborations.

Cash funding for the project came from U.S. Economic Development Agency. The Institute provided the required match.

Study on innovative apprenticeship initiatives in the U.S.: This study was accomplished as a sub-grantee to the Aspen Institute. The study produced a report on innovative apprenticeships. The Institute for Work and the Economy conducted interviews of employers who developed and implemented these apprenticeships. Funding was provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Manufacturing in the U.S., Mexico and Central America: - Peter Creticos and Eleanor Sohnen of the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) wrote this paper on advanced manufacturing in the U.S., Mexico and Central America. This was one of several papers written in support of MPI’s initiative on regional migration. It was published in early 2013 in Washington DC by MPI and the Wilson Center.

Addressing the Municipal and Economic Consequences of the Emerald Ash Borer Infestation: The Institute prepared an economic impact analysis of various strategies addressing the infestation of emerald ash borer in Illinois. It also co-hosted with Northern Illinois University a conference of municipal officials and arborists.

Illinois Budget Calculator: The Institute conceived and helped develop an online tool that enabled Illinois citizens to explore and manipulate the Illinois state budget. The project was led by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. Other partners include Kineo, a public relations firm, and Crain’s Chicago Business. The project was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

OECD Territorial Review of the Puebla/Tlaxcala Metropolitan Area: The Institute provided subject matter expertise in workforce and economic development for the territorial review mission to the Puebla/Tlaxcala Metropolitan area.

OECD Territorial Review of the Chicago Tri-State Metropolitan Area: – The Institute was engaged by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation to aggregate economic and demographic data for the OECD territorial review of the 21-county region encompassing the Chicago Tri-State Metropolitan area, an effort led by Dr. Lance Pressl, now serving as Senior Policy Fellow at the Institute. The Institute also collected and synthesized responses to the draft OECD report and worked closely with the Chamber and with the OECD in shaping the final report.

Workforce Open Knowledge Exchange (WOKE): The Institute, in collaboration with researchers from the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, developed the pilot for an open knowledge exchange for the workforce system. WOKE includes:

  • A workforce ontology that serves as a semantic framework connecting various disciplines, organizations and programs engaged in workforce development

  • A knowledge base

  • User interfaces

  • Tools and templates for automatic knowledge capture. The idea for WOKE originated with the Institute.

Funding was from the Employment and Training Administration of the U. S. Department of Labor.

State of the Art of Workforce Development Policies and Practices in Emerging Regional Economies: RTI International, an international non-governmental organization, commissioned the Institute to prepare a report on the state of the art in workforce development policies, practices and diagnostic tools in developing regions.

Immigrant Integration in the Workplace: The primary objective of this initiative was to illuminate successful policies, practices and processes. In the second phase of the project, the Institute and our partner, the Migration Policy Institute, focused on employment barriers to immigrants who arrive in the U.S. with advance education. The project was funded by the Joyce Foundation.

Latino Technology Alliance/Latino Entrepreneurship in High Technology: The Institute and the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame conducted research for the Latino Technology Alliance on Latino entrepreneurship, especially in high technology. We addressed the current status of Latinos in high technology, the factors that influence Latino participation, and the policies and practices that will expand overall participation and success.

Learning States: The Institute worked with RTI International on RTI's innovative Learning States Initiative (LSI). This initiative joined a group of multinational corporations in a collective effort to explore together emerging markets. The emerging markets targeted by this project are lower on the economic pyramid than where multinationals typically focus their efforts. The pilot was conducted in the Little Village Community in Chicago, a neighborhood of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans, and with a partner community in Michoacan, Mexico. The objective was to grow the collective wealth and improve the quality of life of community residents while opening new markets for businesses. Through this partnership, both the multinationals and these communities can learn, grow and achieve success together. The project was originated by RTI International.

Data Diagnostic Project for Workforce Connections in Pittsburgh, PA: The Institute addressed the information requirements of business and workers in the Greater Pittsburgh area and made recommendations (including examples) for a labor market information system that supported both in the labor exchange.

Skills Standards Project for the State of Ohio: The Institute was involved in the development of a skills standards strategy for the State of Ohio. It partnered as a subcontractor to the Urban Institute at Cleveland State University.

Business Engagement Project for the St. Louis Metropolitan Area: The Institute developed recommendations leading to increased engagement in workforce development by the business community.

Workplace Learning Conference: The Institute organized two national conferences in 2001 and 2003 on the state of the art in workplace-based learning. These conferences brought together leaders from business, labor, government, and education.