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How WIOA is Inspiring Innovation Locally

Filed in DOL By on February 18, 2016

How do you implement a new law which reinvents the public workforce system and calls for innovative approaches to creating opportunities for Americans looking for work? How do you inspire state and local areas to push beyond business as usual and focus on putting job seekers, businesses, and partners at the center of government services?

These are among the challenges that the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration has embraced since President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in July 2014.

D'Angelo Johnson discusses innovation at the White House.

D’Angelo Johnson discusses innovation at the White House.

To inspire innovation around the country, we issued a national Customer Centered Design Challenge to the public workforce system. Over 80 teams answered the call and transformed the delivery of services for out-of-school youth, job seekers and employers.

Eleven teams who participated in a rigorous online training and demonstrated extraordinary commitment to improving customer experience were selected to attend a celebration and learning exchange at the White House on Feb. 16. Teams showcased their innovative approaches in front of White House Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, White House Deputy Director for Innovation and Technology Tom Kalil, Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Portia Wu, as well as other White House staff and federal agency leaders.

D’Angelo Johnson, who serves as a training manager for Arapahoe/Douglas Works in Centennial, Colorado was one of the team members chosen to present at the White House. Even before we launched our challenge, D’Angelo had been thinking about how to inspire his staff to rethink business as usual when it comes to services provided to youth, given the new requirement to transition from serving a minimum of 30 percent out-of-school youth to a minimum of 75 percent.

D’Angelo took advantage of our free online training and access to one-on-one intensive coaching to learn Customer Centered Design methods. He quickly pulled together a diverse team of workforce partners – including his own organization’s staff as well as staff from local government and nonprofit organizations serving youth – and branded themselves the “Future U” team. Most importantly, D’Angelo made a key decision to include two young adult customers as core members leading the team. After all, how can you design a program for a population without including them in the process? D’Angelo answered:

One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say. What came out of our ideation phase was a key insight: young people needed help to imagine themselves as part of our regional workforce and economy. Eventually, we were able to create a brand that put our young customers at the center of what we do. Our new brand, Future U: your path, your potential was born.”

The challenge training helped the Future U team do some “journey mapping” that allowed them to look at each touch point their young customers would have with their programs and staff. The team is currently working on a paid internship and mentoring program that will involve young adults in mentoring their peers in a “Shark Tank”-style competition. The team’s new outreach campaign was well received, which is appearing on light rail lines, social networks and news outlets.

When the team found out that they were selected to attend the Customer Centered Design Learning Exchange & Celebration at the White House, D’Angelo said it was rewarding to see their commitment and dedication to providing customer centered services pay off.  And they never forgot their customers along the way. The team made sure that Dalton McGahey, one of their young adults members, could be present during the White House event.  Dalton shared his insights with all of the participants, giving them the opportunity to hear from a young person’s perspective about the impact their programs can and should have on the customers they serve.

Information on the innovations the 80 teams completed during the challenge − including videos, toolkits and other resources – can be found here. For more information about WIOA, visit

Virginia Hamilton is a regional administrator for the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration based in San Francisco.

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