J-PAL North America announces first partners through Work of the Future Innovation Competition

J-PAL North America, a research center at MIT, will partner with four organizations to test promising models to help workers navigate the shifting labor market as part of the center’s inaugural Work of the Future Innovation Competition

Currently in its first year, J-PAL North America’s Work of the Future Initiative provides direct support to organizations and agencies interested in evaluating programs or policies related to the changing nature of work in North America. In the coming year, J-PAL North America will partner with the Center for Work Education and Employment (CWEE), Checkr, the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Innovation Team, and the Montana Department of Labor and Industry to develop and support rigorous evaluations of programs seeking to improve outcomes for workers. These programs aim to reduce barriers to employment, support workers as they navigate the complex job market, and bolster jobseekers’ abilities to secure and retain quality work. 

“It’s exciting to see so many promising proposals in just the first year of the Work of the Future Initiative,” says Lawrence Katz, co-scientific director of J-PAL North America and academic advisor to the Work of the Future Initiative. “We’re hopeful that the initiative can continue to generate this level of enthusiasm as it seeks to develop promising programs and identify effective methods to help workers navigate the shifting labor market.”   

CWEE is a workforce development agency based in Denver, Colorado, that provides low-income parents, the majority of whom are Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients, with complete career readiness and retention skills. CWEE will partner with J-PAL North America to develop an evaluation on the impact of its intensive case management and career readiness program on employment outcomes. 

“CWEE has been supporting low-income families in the Denver metro community for almost four decades, so it feels incumbent upon us to  take a deeper dive and better understand how the programs and support provided contribute to economic mobility,” says Katy Hamilton, CEO of CWEE. “It’s rare for a nonprofit of our size to have an opportunity like this to learn from the foremost thinkers in the space of academic assessments and social programs.”

Checkr is a background-check company focused on making hiring more inclusive and efficient. J-PAL North America will partner with Checkr to evaluate if the implementation of the Positive Adjudication Matrix (PAM) can reduce bias in the background-check and hiring process. PAM allows employers to deem certain types of offenses irrelevant to the roles for which they’re hiring. Companies can then choose to either filter out or de-emphasize these criminal records. 

“We believe advanced technology plays a critical role in reducing hiring bias,” says Checkr Co-Founder and CEO Daniel Yanisse. “With rigorous research, we can better develop products to ensure a fairer, more inclusive hiring process.”

The Mayor’s Innovation Team (i-team) works with Los Angeles, California, city departments to closely examine complex challenges and discover innovative solutions that can improve the quality of life in LA. The LA i-team will partner with J-PAL North America to design an evaluation of a program that helps job seekers better access employment services at the city’s WorkSource Centers. The i-team seeks to apply behavioral science techniques and use technology to support job seekers, increase usage of the centers’ resources, and improve job placements that create opportunities for Angelenos and lift families out of poverty.

“Our mission is simple: We want to help people get access to resources that can change their lives,” says Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “This partnership will help us expand that work — so that more Angelenos have opportunities to find a career, support their families, contribute to the economy, and strengthen our communities.” 

The Montana Department of Labor and Industry (MTDLI) is a government agency that promotes the well-being of Montana’s workers, employers, and citizens. MTDLI will partner with J-PAL North America to evaluate the effectiveness of Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessments, a national program for individuals claiming unemployment insurance who have been identified as likely to exhaust their UI benefits.

“All organizations must set priorities and find the most effective solutions using limited resources, and MTDLI is no different. MTDLI strives to provide top-notch services to Montana’s workforce in cost-effective and successful ways,” says Barbara Wagner, chief economist at MTDLI. “Using data and research to drive decision-making helps us focus our resources on the best solutions, therefore allowing us to have a greater impact on our workers, businesses, and economy.”

In working with these four organizations J-PAL North America looks to support the development of randomized evaluations of strategies and innovations that address the changing nature of work in North America. Partnerships with the Center for Work Education and Employment, Checkr, the City of Los Angeles, and the Montana Department of Labor and Industry will help J-PAL North America generate solutions that increase opportunity, reduce disparities, and help all workers navigate shifts in the labor market.

J-PAL North America is a regional office of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. J-PAL was established in 2003 as a research center at MIT’s Department of Economics. Since then, it has built a global network of affiliated professors based at over 58 universities and regional offices in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. J-PAL North America was established with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Arnold Ventures and works to improve the effectiveness of social programs in North America through three core activities: research, policy outreach, and capacity building. The Work of the Future Initiative was launched with support from Arnold Ventures, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Gerri and Rich Wong Family.

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