As the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism rage on in America, interventionists in workforce development have gained newfound clarity on the complexity underlying economic injustice.

Advocates increasingly look to double-sided labor market solutions to address economic immobility. An emerging class of job-preparation schemes called “dual-customer training programs” show promise but have largely failed to scale. This research endeavors to answer why.

Over the course of the next few months, we will release a series of volumes exploring this issue and propose steps on how we might work toward economic justice together.

This research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Empathy is the first step to economic justice

Our journey starts with regular people—working adults who want better, more stable employment and better, more stable positioning in the economy. But that’s not all. We will also look deeply at the daily lives of the “buy-side” of the labor market; hiring managers who are scattered across business units and job functions and are perennially frustrated by long hiring times and positions that continue to go unfilled.

Each story is told through autobiographical narrative, co-created with each person featured, crafted and informed by the practices of Equity-Centered Community Design and Liberatory Design.

This design approach not only revealed the more nuanced realities of what we commonly see as the collective worker experience, but also uncovered:

  • The fraught dynamic between two sides of America’s labor market, working adults and hiring managers
  • Why some dual-customer training programs have been successful in helping these two sides meet and transact
  • Systemic issues that explain some of the root causes of our labor market’s inequities and why dual customer training programs have largely failed to scale
  • Toolkit for how problem-solvers at every level can build toward a more efficient, effective, and equitable labor market that’s critical to our nation’s future — to human beings’ futures




What’s in it:

Volume I examines the landscape of dual-customer training programs, disruptors in workforce development that seemed to have learned that, in order to help workers, they also must help employers, treating both as a kind of customer.

What you’ll walk away with:

Insights on the emergence, innovation, and evolution of dual-customer training programs and how they’ve differentiated themselves from their predecessors. This will help you understand what may be inhibiting the scale of current programmatic solutions, from program operators’ perspectives.



What’s in it:

Volume II focuses on the intangible, system-level frictions that help hold bad human experiences in place. Considering problems at the systemic level makes systemic solutions possible.

What you’ll walk away with:

Ten systems-level insights that reveal major inhibitors of scale, along with an understanding of how to interrupt those persistent frictions. This will help you understand the structural architecture that holds bad experiences in place for both workers and employers, and thus prevents solutions from scaling.



What’s in it:

Volume III bears witness to the felt needs of real working adults and hiring managers, especially as they pertain to dual-customer training programs. We were particularly inspired by programs that recognize hiring managers’ experiences are highly nuanced and that their stories affect outcomes, too.

What you’ll walk away with:

Eight themes related to worker and employer needs, along with 16 opportunity areas for responding to them. This will help you understand the workforce challenge as a double-sided market problem by building empathy for working adults and hiring managers alike.



What’s in it:

To solve complex problems, we must design at both the system level and human level, simultaneously. As a field, we must learn to walk and chew gum at the same time. Volume IV is an invitation to do that. It serves as a jumping-off point for changing the way we do business day to day.

What you’ll walk away with:

Recommendations for taking action, regardless of whether you are a policymaker, workforce operator, entrepreneur, writer, or funder. This will help you understand how to embark upon a long-term journey of redesigning the labor market, for both the buy side and the sell side, at both the system level and the human level.

The people you will meet

Working Adults

Akil, a millennial college graduate struggling to get traction in the market for tech careers.

Brenda, a lifelong family caregiver who after more than 30 years finally has the chance to pursue a livelihood of her own choosing, but is thwarted by job injury and disability.

Katherine, a late-blooming entrepreneur trying to protect her new business in the face of the pandemic.

Dale, an aspiring filmmaker who found freedom and flexibility in the gig economy, before the economic shutdown forced him back into grocery retail.

Hiring Managers

Tag, a small business owner who takes matters of employment into her own hands with careful attention to detail.

Brooke, a lifelong human resources professional who sees her field’s untapped potential for human capital development.

Peter, a dyed-in-the-wool people manager who takes ownership of the growth trajectory of new hires who come into his business unit.

Tom, a high-ranking official in a professional services firm tasked with managing huge teams and keeping freshly sold client projects staffed.