TURNING SOUTH BEND, INDIANA, INTO THE CITY OF LIFELONG LEARNING
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 part of Claremont Graduate University, which operates under the university’s 501(c)(3) status—is working to design, prototype, implement and ultimately scale a holistic, integrated system that will help transform South Bend, Indiana, into the City of Lifelong Learning.
In this way, 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.
The South Bend Lifelong Learning System
The South Bend Lifelong Learning System aims 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 disadvantaged.
The system—part digital, part physical—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, regardless of someone’s age, educational level, income or job status.
Many people talk about “lifelong learning” as a loosely defined concept. We intend to make it tangible. Specifically, our digital portal will allow every citizen of South Bend to:
- Understand what skills are in demand in the area (based on timely employer input)
- See where those skills (hard or soft) are being taught (via local institutions or through curricula available directly on the platform)
- Keep a record of what has been learned (possibly with credentialing or badging recognized by local business)
- Further develop career skills (possibly for Continuing Professional Education credits), as well as stay intellectually engaged once retired
- Present, for those who have the knowledge and skills, volunteer opportunities to teach others (perhaps in exchange for points that can be used to take courses themselves)
- 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
While lifelong learning options will be delivered in large part through this online platform, the City of South Bend will be collaborating with the St. Joseph County Library and other nonprofit partners to ensure that designated physical spaces will provide wireless connectivity, computer training, face-to-face teaching (where that is more effectual) and a conduit to other support services.
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.
Bringing Our Vision to Life
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 Buttigieg—widely recognized as one of America’s best urban leaders—and his senior staff. We also have early buy-in from business, nonprofit and educational leaders in the city.
The Drucker Institute’s deep experience in strategy, project design and management—and our ability to draw on a network of top experts in technology, training and more—will ensure that a blend of the best local and outside talent is deployed.
There are myriad organizations across the country tackling issues of workforce development. We know of few, if any, that have taken as holistic an approach as we’ve taken here.
Why South Bend?
Landing in South Bend is no accident. We’ve done a training project here before with the Department of Community Investment (honored as a “Bright Idea” by Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation), and found the city an ideal environment to design, test and build out a new system—and then spread it elsewhere.
How come? South Bend is big enough to have complexity, 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 a senior staff member who lives in South Bend and has worked closely with the city for the past five years, giving us a strong local presence to ensure smooth implementation of—and fidelity to—the system as it’s conceived and built out.
A System for Everyone, But With Clear Priorities
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 (less than 4%), but this masks weaknesses in the labor market, with some 10,000 people no longer counted in the labor force. Some churn in and out of the labor market is, of course, normal and even desirable; it reflects dynamism in the system as people go back to school or take some time before launching a new business. But a cohort this large (in a city with 50,000 to 60,000 workers in total) is a major concern to local officials and business leaders. This group of 10,000—many of whom have sidelined themselves because they’ve lost hope—will be a major focus of our lifelong learning initiative.
Another group to focus on are 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. We must design a system that meets the needs of residents in these areas.
All the while, it’s important to recognize that there is another, larger portion of the population that is employed but vulnerable to job displacement. Nearly half of the workers in South Bend are in sales or food preparation and service—occupations that have been identified by McKinsey & Co. and other experts as highly subject to disruption by automation. Across the South Bend-Mishawaka metro area, there are more than 20,000 workers in manufacturing and transportation, two other areas ripe for machines to displace humans. We need to get these groups excited about the idea of lifelong learning and cultivate the habit of acquiring new knowledge and skills, so that they are ready to take full advantage of the system if and when they find themselves knocked out of a job.
Three Phases of Development
The project will unfold in three phases. During the first phrase, which will take place through the end of 2018, the Drucker Institute and its partners will gather information from—and seek to build trust with—key stakeholders and evaluate local and national learning resources that may be included on the platform.
Assuming that this groundwork is laid successfully during Phase 1 and the necessary funding is secured, the project will then move into a design phase and, finally, be marketed and launched across the city.
All of the work that we do at the Drucker Institute relies heavily on design thinking, with the user always kept at the center of the products and services that we offer. We do not believe in, “Build it and they will come.” Rather, we start with prototypes, iterating and improving our offerings based on the actual experience and feedback of early customers.
We expect that it will take three to four years to actually get the South Bend Lifelong Learning System up and running.
Scaling and Replicating the System
The system should be scalable—once we learn a lot ourselves by piloting and experimenting with different aspects of the platform, including testing what will motivate people of different ages and backgrounds and socioeconomic status to become active and engaged learners.
Having Mayor Buttigieg as a vocal champion of the system will surely be critical to its uptake. But more than anything, we know that we need to make the system enticing and engaging. We need to make lifelong learning fun and cool. This can’t feel like a visit to the dentist.
Once the system in South Bend is in place and growing—and we are getting steady feedback on what’s working and where things can improve—we believe that our model can be replicated across the country. Our relationships with a number of city leaders (through our Drucker Playbook for the Public Sector program) will provide a ready network to help make this happen.
The City of South Bend, meanwhile, has made clear that it is committed to helping sustain a lifelong learning system if we can design and build a platform that works. The St. Joseph County Public Library is expected to play an essential role in administering the system.
It’s important to underscore that we are not starting from scratch; we are building on a host of existing programs run by the city and key partners (such as the nonprofit enFocus, a local engine of social innovation; the county library; andthe South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce). We also have a panoply of Drucker Institute resources, including material on effective management practices, which may be deployed as part of the system.
Much of the power of this initiative, in other words, comes not from inventing new tools for learning but from rethinking how to better deploy a wealth of resources already available. We will be a curriculum curator, not a curriculum creator.
Our project will be successful if, over time, most every citizen of South Bend utilizes the lifelong learning system to access new knowledge and skills on a regular basis and, above all, if the city’s most disadvantaged are able to then leverage their new knowledge and skills into better, higher-paying jobs.
It is too early to lay out a firm timeline and numerical targets, but we have already made plans to measure impact and ROI from the get-go by hiring a third-party evaluator.