ACT Foundation Legacy Part 2: Assembling the Pieces
Posted: November 2nd, 2016
To make the ACT Foundation successful, it had to push forward on multiple fronts at once. It had to engage in research that would develop evidence to support the new directions in learning and earning the foundation hoped to pinpoint. It had to invest in partnership development and the exploration of new technologies, and it had to have the courage to challenge convention. Most important, it had to integrate the voices of working learners themselves into all of its work.
Developing Cutting-edge Research
ACT Foundation made its research plans reality by constructing a network of “Aces,” thought leaders who could conduct multi-disciplinary applied research. Beginning by enlisting the talents of economic development consultant and columnist Amy Kaslow, a former senior fellow with the Council on Competitiveness, and scientist and education innovator Merrilea Mayo, Ph.D., founder of Mayo Enterprises, LLC, the Aces Research Network would expand to support intellectual discovery by an array of intellectual leaders with range of expertise, including: Anjalé D. Welton, Ph.D. (education, policy, organization, and leadership); Daniel Ash, Ph.D. (workplace psychology and training program development); Franci Phelan, Ph.D. (human resources and organizational learning); John McCarthy (youth engagement); Johnathan M. Holifield, Esq. (economic development); and Nicole Smith, Ph.D. (econometrics).
The Aces set about preparing a research agenda that would answer questions with national ramifications:
· What is the actual definition of a working learner?
· What are some of the competing responsibilities of a working learner?
· What challenges do working learners face?
The goal was to cross-pollinate ideas—taking knowledge previously related to only one field and applying it to others. The Aces pledged to not only challenge conformity and the status quo, but also to help disrupt institutional and societal structures and systems that enable or inhibit success, from corporate policy to educational models to technological trends to politics. The goal was to uncover an evidence-based truth that would form the foundation for catalyzing changes in learning and talent development. A near immediate result was the groundbreaking publication that set the stage for the rest of our efforts: National Learning Economy: The New American Dream.
Setting New Standards through a National Network
Acting on data which showed that American businesses are unable to find the skilled workers they need to achieve maximum productivity, ACT Foundation and partners at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Joyce Foundation, and Lumina Foundation convened more than 20 business and industry organizations with the objective of building a common blueprints of the knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors needed to be acquired in the learning process and for success in the workplace. In partnership with the Business Roundtable, the organizations became the first members of the National Network of Business and Industry Associations, which included leaders in the manufacturing, retail, healthcare, energy, construction, hospitality, transportation, and information technology sectors. Its first full meeting was held in February 2014. Members focused on identifying the knowledge and competencies needed for success in business and creating ways to recognize common credentials that validate those skills. Grants were awarded to members to pursue strategies to link learning to careers in their industries.
Engaging Actual Working Learners
While the Foundation used well-known intellectuals to develop insight through research, it was equally critical to incorporate the voices of the people the work was actually trying to empower: working learners themselves. To accomplish this, the Foundation convened a Working Learner Advisory Council, made up of students from around the country who were also employed. Integrated into ACT Foundation initiatives, events, and programs, the Working Learner Advisory Council have been able to share their unique perspectives with leaders in the foundation, education, and talent development arenas and inform the work of the ACT Foundation and other aligned activities. The original Working Learner Advisory Council was announced in April 2014 and would grow to include 18 young working learners from across the country. The council members have participated in meetings with staff and researchers, participated on panels, and developed video content to tell their stories as they helped set the agenda for the work the Foundation has engaged in.
ACT Foundation has worked to illustrate the value of accurate and timely connections linking learning and working on both global and micro scales. Together with a network of partners, we have developed actionable evidence and technologies to promote efficiencies in work/learn and to promote competency-based learning and hiring as keys to achieving equity in the new learning economy. Functioning as a convener, the Foundation gathered, often for the first time, individuals and organizations to focus on the changing paradigms in workforce development. ACT Foundation also demonstrated the synergies between education and emerging technologies. Most importantly, the Foundation has learned from working learners themselves how to create learning systems that empower their participation in an economy where everyone can capitalize on opportunity.