Defines workforce prototyping, which involves rapid and iterative testing of new models, and explains how it can be implemented in the workforce development context based on examples from a partnership between Upskill Houston and the Communities that Work Partnership designed to fill the middle-skills gap in the construction and petrochemical industries in the Greater Houston area.

This brief describes workforce prototyping conducted by Upskill Houston and the Communities that Work Partnership (CTWP) regional team from Houston. The partnership includes “the Greater Houston Partnership, United Way of Greater Houston, San Jacinto College, and the Gulf Coast Workforce Solutions” (p.2). The partners “adopted a series of innovative prototypes to speed workforce innovation and to scale what works to meet the demand for…middle-skill jobs, with a focus on two of the region’s fast-growing industries: petrochemical manufacturing and construction” (p.1).


 [T]he Houston CTWP team…adopted an innovative approach, borrowed from industry, to test out solutions to workforce challenges: prototyping. In the prototyping approach, UpSkill leaders quickly design a few different potential solutions to a workforce challenge. Then they implement them on a small scale and assess as a group what works and what does not. The leaders take that learning and incorporate what works into the next generation of workforce implementation and drop what doesn’t work. [They] share results and lessons learned with other employers, in part through return-on-investment scenarios. These conversations take place in existing industry sector council meetings of employer groups or in newly formed industry groups….These groups aggregate the employer voice and, because of their reach across many employers, provide the foundation for scaling successful prototyped models.

The workforce prototype approach is much more experimental and faster-paced than more typical ‘pilot’ or ‘demonstration’ programs. Rather than applying lengthy evaluation models or long training time, the prototypes employed by UpSkill Houston encourage creativity, innovation, and fast action in an environment where companies need skilled jobs filled quickly” (p.3).

The brief also provides details about the four prototypes launched by UpSkill Houston, including the Women in Construction pipefitting and safety training prototype (p.4).

This is one of seven briefs that documents the work of seven regional partnerships selected to participate in the Communities that Work Partnership initiative.

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The brief suggests that the prototype model in the workforce development context include the following key aspects: • “[Be] quickly designed and implemented • [Include] intentional planning and learning (from the beginning) to integrate what works into practices and systems • [Leverage] industry sector councils…to scale change across employers • [Secure] commitment to collaborative relationships that go beyond transactional, one-off benefits and instead link to a long-term shared vision for change” (p.3). It also provides the following takeaways: • “Use workforce ‘prototyping’ as a key strategy in workforce development to engage employers and speed up learning and then scale solutions. • As a common business approach, prototyping resonates well with businesses, signals to business leaders that the work is designed with industry in mind, and is much more experimental and faster-paced than more typical ‘pilot’ or ‘demonstration’ programs. • Start small with willing partners in a workforce prototype, learn from the experience, and then commit to expand what works into larger employer, education, and workforce practice and systems to create scale and make skill development solutions sustainable over time. • To make it work, partners need an entrepreneurial, fast paced ‘can do, act now’ attitude and a commitment to collective seeing, learning and doing” (p.1). The brief also highlights outcomes from the Women in Construction pipefitting and safety training prototype. It notes that over four months, the 20 selected participants “alternated their time in the program between pipefitting training in the classroom and work in the field” and that “nineteen of the 20 women received their training credential upon completion, and the company hired the women in permanent positions, paying them $18.00 per hour” (p.5). In addition, “despite the relatively generous initial investment by [a local company], early quantitative results show net savings from the prototype. The savings were found in reduced per diem travel costs for workers (who would have otherwise been hired from outside the region), reduced worker safety violations and costs, and increased worker productivity for [this company]” (p.5). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)