For too many people, learning ends when they finish school. Increasingly, however, economic opportunity—as well as dignity—is dependent upon lifelong learning.
Most at risk are those who haven’t gone beyond high school. Indeed, by 2020, 65% of all jobs in the U.S. will require some post-secondary education. Yet only 46% of adults have a four-year degree, two-year degree or workforce-relevant certificate. And in many communities, opportunities for continuous skill-building are scarce.
With this in mind, the Drucker Institute—a social enterprise at Claremont Graduate University—is working to design, prototype and implement a holistic, integrated system that will help transform South Bend, Indiana, into a City of Lifelong Learning.
If successful, the system will be replicated across the country.
For its part, South Bend will acquire a new, well-earned identity—one that it can proudly hold up both to itself and to the outside world. South Bend was once known (at least outside of Notre Dame) as the city that made Studebakers. We’re helping to provide a more sustainable and sustaining model, as South Bend redefines itself as the city that produces lifelong learners.
This project is being undertaken in collaboration with the Office of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the St. Joseph County Library and other key stakeholders throughout the city, including business and labor groups, nonprofits and neighborhood associations, the South Bend Community School Corporation and other educational institutions, and advocates for early childhood development and seniors.
We are developing the South Bend Lifelong Learning System to serve all of the city’s 100,000 residents, with an emphasis on ensuring that learning is relevant and accessible for the most economically vulnerable.
We aim to have 20,000 people sign up in Year 1 (2020), reach 35,000 sign-ups by the end of Year 2 and 50,000 by the end of Year 3.
As fleshed out below, we will design the system in a way that it is scalable nationally.
Part digital and part physical, the system will take what is currently a highly fragmented set of learning resources, identify those that have proven to be most effective, integrate them more efficiently and make them accessible and inviting for the entire South Bend community.
Our digital portal will allow every citizen of South Bend to:
Understand what skills are in demand (based on timely employer input).
Connect people to learning opportunities to develop those skills (hard or soft) via local institutions or through curricula available directly on the platform from national providers.
Keep a record of what has been learned (with credentialing and badging recognized by local employers).
Present, for those who have the knowledge and skills, volunteer opportunities to teach others.
Continually develop professional and technical skills (for those already with “good” jobs), as well as stay intellectually engaged once retired (which can help stave off the symptoms of Alzheimer’s).
Learn beyond the workplace—e.g., how to prepare healthy meals, gain financial literacy or simply engage with a topic that is a personal passion.
Designated physical spaces—at library branches, neighborhood tech centers and other locations—will provide wireless connectivity, house face-to-face study sessions and learning circles, and serve as a conduit to other support services (such as child care).
The hallmarks of the system are as follows:
First, we will aggregate, market and distribute the best curricula and other resources out there. We intend to curate, not create, content.
Second, we envision a true lifelong learning system—one that begins with early childhood education and carries through someone’s entire working life and into their senior years. Through this “pre-K to gray” orientation, we aim to cultivate in people a habit of lifelong learning.
Third, this will be a truly universal system, designed to be meaningful for—and used by— everyone. When the corporate executive taps into the same system as the low-income service worker, it stands to undo the stigma that can come with “workforce development” for only the poor.
We are confident that we can bring this vision to life.
Our belief stems, in large part, from the fact that we have the full backing of Mayor Pete Buttigieg—widely recognized as one of America’s best urban leaders—and his senior staff. The Drucker Institute has worked closely with them on other projects over the past six years.
South Bend is big enough to have complexity and major challenges, small enough to get things done and eager to be a test bed for ideas. Indeed, Mayor Buttigieg likes to call South Bend the “Beta City.”
Although the Drucker Institute is based in Claremont, California, we have two senior staff members, along with a team of contractors, who live in South Bend, giving us a strong local presence to ensure smooth implementation of—and fidelity to—the system as it’s built out.
The Hallmarks of the System
First, the South Bend Lifelong Learning System promises to deliver in a cohesive fashion a number of proven approaches: an assessment of what job skills are most needed based on real-time market information; a way to link people’s knowledge and abilities with genuine employer needs, augmented by an array of learning opportunities to fill in gaps; volunteer matching for those with the interest and aptitude to teach others; and a blended learning model with neighborhood support services buttressing online offerings.
Second, we envision a true lifelong learning system—one that begins with early childhood education and carries through someone’s entire working life and into their senior years.
Third, this will be a truly universal system, designed to be meaningful for—and used by—everyone. When the corporate executive taps into the same system as the low-income service worker, it stands to undo the stigma that can come with “workforce development” for the jobless or underemployed. This is about knowledge building, but also about community building.
Serving the Underserved
As explained above, we see great virtue in a universal system. In the knowledge age, everyone needs to keep learning, no matter his or her station. But clearly, the city’s underserved need this system the most.
Officially, South Bend has a low unemployment rate (around 4%), but this masks weaknesses in the job market, with some 10,000 people no longer counted in the labor force. Many of them have sidelined themselves because they’ve lost hope; pulling them back into the world of work will be a major focus.
Another focus will be those who are still in the labor market but unemployed. In fact, we have identified three census tracts with jobless rates of 15% or higher.
All the while, an even larger portion of the population is employed but vulnerable to job displacement. About half the workers in South Bend are in sales or food preparation and service—occupations that have been identified as highly subject to disruption by automation.
Across the metro area, more than 20,000 workers are in manufacturing and transportation, two other areas ripe for machines to displace humans. We need these groups to take full advantage of the Lifelong Learning System.
In response to some of these challenges—and to meet needs expressed by some of South Bend’s leading employers, intermediaries such as Goodwill and individual residents—we are currently piloting a process to help companies recruit and retain qualified front-line employees for entry-level positions.
Despite an abundance of applicants, many South Bend-area employers have told us that they have trouble finding appropriate candidates for low-skill jobs, and then experience high rates of turnover once they fill these slots. This is true, they say, even when applicants have completed various soft-skill training programs.
At the same time, we know that even well-qualified applicants don’t always land in a nurturing work environment. Often, front-line managers aren’t equipped to deal with employees who face the myriad challenges of being from a low-income neighborhood.
Our pilot has engaged trusted community members—such as Goodwill case workers, religious leaders and school teachers—to serve as “Lifelong Learning Ambassadors” and endorse individuals as “High Potentials” if these residents demonstrate the qualities that employers say they are seeking: good character; a strong work ethic; an ability to collaborate and resolve conflict; and an interest in continued growth and learning. (Eventually, those whom our Ambassadors identify as High Potentials will be badged as such on the digital platform.)
Meanwhile, South Bend-area businesses that meet certain criteria for creating a welcoming and responsive workplace will be badged by the Lifelong Learning System as “Preferred Employers.” Among these is participation in a training program for front-line supervisors that has been developed by the Drucker Institute in partnership with Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.
Once it’s proven, we plan to extend the High Potentials/Preferred Employers process to the middle-skills job market, as well.
What We’ve Done So Far
The Drucker Institute spent 2018 laying the groundwork for the Lifelong Learning System.
Thanks to the generosity and partnership of Walmart and Google.org, we were able to draw on our deep experience in strategy, project design and project management—as well our ability to tap a team of top experts in technology, training and more—to focus on four areas:
Gathering information about what those in South Bend need to learn and want to learn, and how they like to learn.
“What do customers value?—what satisfies their needs, wants and aspirations—is so complicated that it can only be answered by customers themselves,” Peter Drucker advised. This is why, as we get to Phase 2 of this project (the all-important design, build and launch of the Lifelong Learning System), we will have spent a year diving into this question from the ground up.
To date, we have interviewed about 1,000 South Bend residents, with an eye on building a Lifelong Learning System not just for the community but very much in partnership with the community. This philosophy also aligns perfectly with the human-centered design practiced by IDEO, our key collaborator.
So, what have we found?
Our research has made clear that South Bend residents are eager to have easy access to well-curated content, which will allow them to refresh and upgrade their skills for the workplace and beyond.
But they’re also hungry for something else: to connect with people so that they can learn from each other, and with each other.
It has always been our sense that promoting personal interaction would be important. This is why we proposed at the outset that the system should be place-based as well as digital. And yet the input of residents has pushed our thinking much further. As a result, we now see the central purpose of the Lifelong Learning System as cultivating communities of learners.
To this end, we have begun identifying resources that will facilitate the organizing of learning circles and study groups, job-shadowing experiences, career coaching and volunteer teaching.
Establishing trust and building momentum for lifelong learning throughout all parts of the city.
In addition to gaining buy-in from countless residents, we also have been cultivating interest and cooperation from business, government, nonprofit and educational leaders across the city.
We have assembled a remarkably diverse Stakeholders Committee, which has been meeting quarterly to help forge a common understanding of what the Lifelong Learning System should seek to accomplish while building excitement for its eventual launch.
Membership is steadily growing, but for now includes representatives from the City of South Bend, the St. Joseph County Public Library, the South Bend Community School Corporation, South Bend Code School, Latin American Chamber of Commerce, Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem, Westville Education Initiative, South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce, General Stamping & Metalworks, Lippert Components, Ridge Auto Parts, Ivy Tech, Notre Dame, IUSB, enFocus, the Forever Learning Institute, Ready to Grow St. Joe, Goodwill and Bridges Out of Poverty.
Forming key partnerships with local and national resource providers.
As part of our work in 2018, we created a directory with more than 100 learning and support resources to possibly include as part of the Lifelong Learning System. These cover the full spectrum of users, as befitting a system that is truly lifelong and universal: families seeking early childhood education opportunities; K-12 students; general adult learners; those wanting training for entry-level and middle-skill jobs; professionals trying to advance their careers; independent workers and small-business owners; employers; and seniors.
But we didn’t just put together a list. We have had conversations with dozens of resource providers to understand the best way to eventually plug them into the system from both a content and technical standpoint. This will give us a big running start as we move from conceptualization to implementation.
Early planning to replicate the model across the country.
There are a host of great reasons to make South Bend our first City of Lifelong Learning. But we have always seen it as a proving ground. With that in mind, we have been developing a plan to scale our model throughout the U.S. Details are below.
What’s Ahead in 2019
To design, build and launch the South Bend Lifelong Learning System by early 2020, while preparing to scale the model nationally, the Drucker Institute will:
Work closely with IDEO to shape the best possible user experience. This will involve continuous testing and iterating of various designs with learners from across all parts of South Bend. The extensive work that we’ve done during Phase 1 to understand user wants and needs, including IDEO’s creation of a set of learner “personas,” gives us a solid foundation on which to build. And the trust and momentum that we’ve established with a large number of institutions and their constituents through our Stakeholders Committee will give us ample avenues to carry out this design testing.
Hire and collaborate closely with a technology firm (or firms) that will provide seamless systems integration and help bring IDEO’s user-experience design to life.
Finalize agreements with providers of educational and support resources for inclusion in the Lifelong Learning System. As noted above, we have been in conversations with dozens of providers, in part to understand how we can develop the necessary APIs to pull relevant learner information (courses completed, skills acquired, credentials attained, etc.) from their platforms into the South Bend system.
Use the insights we’ve gained from our “High Potential/Preferred Employers” Phase 1 pilot to finalize the process and roll it out to other entry-level and middle-skills employers. We are collaborating with General Stamping & Metalworks, Lippert Components, Ridge Auto Parts, LaSalle Hospitality Group and the City of South Bend (in its capacity as an employer of front-line workers) on this effort. All of them, along with the South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce, promise to help us scale it across the city.
Bring on an outside evaluation firm that will help us design into the system from the get-go a set of hard metrics for measuring outputs and outcomes.
Add to the team a firm that can set up a robust badging and credentialing regime for workers and employers.
Hire a marketing firm that will help us launch the Lifelong Learning System, ensuring its swift and extensive uptake. As Bridgespan has noted: “Nonprofits and funders that aspire to achieve breakthrough results need to reject the notion that need equals demand. Rather, they must be prepared to…develop a strong sales and marketing capability.”
Sustaining and Scaling the System
In South Bend, the St. Joseph County Public Library (SJCPL) has signed on to administer and steward the system after it is launched in early 2020.
IDEO will help SJCPL develop a long-term plan for financial viability of the system. And the technology partner we bring on (we’ve interviewed a half-dozen top-tier firms about possibly playing this role) will be positioned to provide ongoing maintenance of the digital learning platform, alongside SJCPL’s IT department.
SJCPL is the natural home for this initiative. Libraries are among America’s most trusted public institutions. Notably, some three-quarters of South Bend residents already are counted in the library database.
SJCPL will also provide the physical spaces that will augment the digital part of the system, with its Main Library and seven branches around South Bend. In addition, SJCPL is partnering with the City of South Bend to staff a new series of digital access centers, providing even more blended-learning spaces throughout the neighborhoods.
Finally—and, in some ways, most importantly—we are confident that the South Bend Lifelong Learning System will be highly replicable.
In order to identify and later create the conditions for success in new locations, we will develop during Phase 2 a toolkit that captures how we’ve undertaken our bottom-up approach to engaging the community and understanding its learning needs; how we’ve generated interest and involvement from a broad cross-section of local institutions; how we’ve mapped local and national resources; and how the system was ultimately designed and built while always keeping the user at the center of everything.
The Drucker Institute and IDEO are also now in discussions to create a joint venture to help other U.S. cities adopt the South Bend model.