9: Early and Mid-Term Products

Why do Mid-Term Products Matter to End-Goals?

They Build a Line of Sight to Desired Outcomes

Recall in Chapter 7: Metrics and Evaluation, we offered a framework for understanding and measuring progress. Imagine your sector initiative progressing and performing across three phases:

  1. During start-up, you may see evidence of progress by the partnership (such as employer engagement or a memorandum of understanding);
  2. As you begin to implement solutions to the workforce challenges experienced by employers, the initiative will likely develop some products (such as a new curriculum or a set of skills standards); and finally,
  3. Over the longer term, the initiative may begin to realize actual outcomes or impacts (such as lower turnover for employers or career advancement by workers).

Consider that the products developed along the way are part of your strategies toward achieving longer-term outcomes. In other words, there is a set of early and intermediate achievements that are critical stepping stones to reaching the longer term impacts on employers, workers and jobseekers. In Theory of Change language, these intermediate achievements are sometimes called pre-conditions because their existence is a “pre-condition” to a longer term outcome.

The products that your initiative develops as part of the set of solutions to the workforce challenges faced by the target industry should be considered the “pre-conditions” to your initiative’s long-term impacts. This is why it is critical to first identify the root causes to the observed workforce challenges in the industry, then articulate the long-term desired change, and lastly brainstorm and design the set of solutions that will achieve that change.

They Demonstrate Action and Results

Within a year of active engagement and activity, your initiative should be able to show some tangible products that demonstrate forward movement and pro-active steps to solving the workforce challenges of the focus industry. Recall that the value of a sector initiative is that it identifies, designs, and implements a customized solution to the set of challenges facing the industry of focus. Because of this tailored approach, the products will (and should) vary. These products and services should be driven by what is needed to close skills gaps in the industry.

The added value of tangible products and services is their utility as internal and external marketing tools. Because they demonstrate that concrete action has been taken, they can be used to keep current employers and other partnership members engaged. They may even help to recruit new members or attract new funding.

Product Choice and Distribution

Choose Wisely

Many types of products and services can result from your initiative. You may do a skills gap analysis; develop skill standards; conduct asset mapping related to the industry's needs; develop a new training curriculum or new occupational certificates; describe career pathways, crosswalks, and lattices and develop related coursework; create on-the-job mentoring progams; or create industry marketing or career awareness strategies, such as:

These are all good solutions, but be careful to not put the cart before the horse. It is very common to choose a solution to a problem before really understanding the problem. Before creating any products or services, the partnership will need to dig deep into the root causes of the skills gaps experienced by employers in the industry. The partnership then must ask itself:

  • What solutions make the most sense?
  • What product(s) will achieve the greatest impact or leap toward our desired outcomes?
  • What is pre-conditional for our mid-term and long-term impact?
  • If we develop (fill in the blank), is there a clear line of sight to our desired outcomes? 

Distribute and Use Widely

Products and services that can be clearly linked back to the problem experienced by employers and forward to the change desired by employers should be distributed beyond the inner circle of the partnership. Even skills standards and industry analysis reports should be considered marketing tools for your initiative.

Chapter 9 Review Questions

  1. Do the products and services that you are planning or implementing clearly lead to the impacts your effort wants to achieve?
  2. Can you use the products and services to help market your overall efforts?
  3. Have you checked in with your employer partners to make sure your products and services are meeting their needs?
  4. What, if anything, needs to change about your products, services, or outputs?