The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership implemented a Workforce Innovation Fund grant to design, implement, and test an integrated workforce management information system referred to as Career Connect. The new system was to be used to house comprehensive information on programs, services, and outcomes, and to allow cross-program sharing of data throughout the Chicago region.

The third-party evaluator conducted a process study and used data from project documents, observations, a survey, and interviews with key stakeholders to evaluate the management information system changes and technological innovation as they pertained to workforce system operations. The functional goal for the project was to have all Cook County workforce providers that receive Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Title I funds using Career Connect as their data system of record. This included 49 organizations when the project began and 53 by the time Career Connect was fully implemented in June 2017.

Additionally, the goal was to eventually invite non-WIOA workforce providers to also use the system. At the project’s inception, there were about 130 providers (delegates and non-delegates) in Cook County, Illinois, braiding together funding to provide workforce services.

The long-term goal of the Career Connect project is three-fold:

  1. Workforce customers, both job seekers and employers, have better economic outcomes.
  2. Cook County, Illinois, realizes broader economic gains.
  3. The workforce development field becomes better coordinated and less siloed.

The study aimed to document the context and operations of Career Connect’s design, assess the degree to which it was implemented as designed, and assess stakeholder participation.

Major Findings & Recommendations

Findings from the process evaluation included the following:

  • Implementation of Career Connect required more time and staff resources than anticipated and a lengthy process of trial-and-error to establish appropriate roles, responsibilities, and levels of effort for all players involved.
  • Identifying requirements to be included in a Request for Information (RFI) for the system was critical to gathering stakeholder input and helping the mostly non-technical project team develop an understanding of the technical needs, timeline, and costs.
  • Stakeholder engagement was necessary for understanding key perspectives and potential for identifying challenges. However, stakeholders’ interest waned over time, and knowledge of the project’s purpose and status was inconsistent, even amongst those who were highly engaged at the start of the project.
  • Some stakeholders were worried that the Partnership would use Career Connect as a punitive compliance tool. The eventual system had a scaled-down number of interfaces, which meant that Career Connect was not as useful as originally intended.

The evaluator offered several recommendations for implementing similar projects in the future, including the following:

  1. Allow sufficient time early on to articulate roles, responsibilities, and levels of effort, as well as to develop a detailed communications plan;
  2. A robust systems requirement process is of vital importance in selecting the contractor and for assuring stakeholder engagement;
  3. Project resources should adequately cover management and administrative staff as well as subject matter experts, and specialists (consultants, developers, testers, etc.);
  4. Allow substantial time (and funding) to migrate data to new systems and build interfaces: and
  5. Develop – and communicate – policies and procedures about how to handle (workforce program and systems) data that will not be migrated (to the new platform).