Indiana Wins the Workforce Lottery

On Thursday, Indiana became the second state, after Colorado, to partner with the Markle Foundation to promote Indiana’s transition to a skills-based economy. Markle’s workforce non-profit, Skillful, will lead the charge with the support of Walmart, LinkedIn, and Purdue University.

Everyone can find Indiana and Colorado on a map. Walmart and LinkedIn (now, part of Microsoft) are leading tech companies. Purdue University is a leader in Transparent Education as one of the first Universities to offer Income Share Agreements to its students (excuse me…boilermakers!). But, who exactly is the Markle Foundation and what is Skillful?

Software, Airplanes, and Coal Mines.

The United States is home to 6 of the world’s 10 largest charitable foundations, with combined endowments of ~$100 billion. The largest of these is the Gates Foundation (~$50 billion). In addition to the modern computer era, we have Bill Gates to thank for the ascendance of charitable foundations as drivers of social innovation. Historically, foundations supported a diverse array of causes, but thanks to the Gates Foundation, more are taking a Jack Welch approach to giving, and trying to truly excel in their charitable niche. The Gates Foundation is obviously dominant in the field of global health, while the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (~$22 billion) is pre-eminent in medical research.

And so it is with the Markle Foundation, which had pursued many initiatives over the years before starting to focus deeply on the American worker in 2013. Today, when it comes to the World of Work, I would argue that the Markle Foundation sits in pole position, despite the lack of a well-known eccentric billionaire behind its name. Unlike Bill Gates or Howard Hughes (the 1930’s version of Elon Musk, for airplanes), the Markle Foundation was founded by a philanthropist coal mining magnate, John Markle, famous for constructing a gigantic drainage tunnel in 1894 to reclaim flooded coal fields in Pennsylvania. The foundation, seeded with a mere $15 million in 1933 has since grown to ~$115 million today.

The Foundation’s focus on the World of Work began as the outgrowth of a 50-person brain trust, including Madeleine Albright (former U.S. Secretary of State), Marc Benioff (founder, Salesforce), and Jeff Weiner (CEO, LinkedIn) called “Rework America”. This coalition of broad-thinkers produced a book published in 2015 called, “America’s Moment”. Instead of telling you what it’s about, I’ll show you.

Watch this for two minutes with a cup of coffee this morning and try not to feel inspired:

If you don’t have 2 minutes (or forgot to bring your earbuds to work), here is the idea:

Every American has a meaningful place in the new economy. 

The book itself, sitting here in front of me, focuses on three prescriptive areas of focus, all necessary to make the statement above come true:

  1. Preparing people to succeed: the notion that high school or college diplomas are the “only” signals of people’s abilities doesn’t mesh with technological changes that require a culture of lifetime learning.
  2. Using data to innovate jobs and technology to match employers to workers: the idea that data and analytics can be used more efficiently to help people find meaningful work, today.
  3. Transitioning to a “no-collar” world of work: the need to move beyond “blue-collar” or “white-collar” and develop new ways to categorize and credential people’s talent.

The publication of this book is the place where most Foundations would have stopped, relished the moment, and moved on to the next philanthropic trend. Instead, the Markle Foundation put skin in the game and began funding a new initiative that same year, called Skillful, with $15 million a year to make these ideas happen.


Like any good startup, Skillful began experimenting in a small geography to see what ideas from Rework America could be tractable. One of the first experiments (since discontinued), in partnership with LinkedIn and Colorado, was called LinkedIn Training, which helped job seekers find educational offering for in demand jobs (see below):

Screenshot 2018-10-14 23.56.05.png

Since then, Skillful has continued to push forward with initiatives that fit the broad theme of using data to connect workers and employers in ways that do not rely solely on high school or college credentials. Fast forward three years, and the progress made by Skillful has been impressive.

First, workers in Colorado have access to a host of tools to connect them to high paying jobs. Take for example the Hot Jobs tool, which focuses on helping workers gain the skills required in the IT, Advanced Manufacturing, and Healthcare industries. Workers can see job postings in these industries and access analytic “snapshots” (see below) of the most common positions:

Screenshot 2018-10-15 00.10.50.png

Data tools such as the one above, enable workers to find jobs that could be of interest, and then pursue educational pathways to get there.

Second, Skillful is training key employees in nonprofits, workforce centers, and community college on how to use data-driven career coaching, through a program called the Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps. Launched only a year ago, the Coaching Corps has since trained two classes of workforce employees on the use of 3 different data platforms. These Coaches are not only effective at the level of the individual coach, but serve as brand ambassadors for Skillful content throughout the workforce system.

Thirdly, Skillful is working with the business community to transition from “credential based” to “skills based” hiring. This paradigm (more wonkily called “competency-based hiring”) encourages employers to identify the skills relevant for each open position, and then try and identify people with these skills, rather than doing the same process but with a specific credential (e.g. Bachelors in Electrical Engineering). The transition to skills-based hiring has already gained the support of the Colorado Technology Association and its 375+ member companies.

Finally, in February Skillful launched the Skillful State Network, a coalition of 20 State Governors intended to share ideas and best practices from Colorado. As a founding member of the Skillful State Network, Indiana’s Governor Holcomb obviously also intended to be the first one to win the race to have Skillful come to his state.

Skillful Indiana

Based on their startup mentality, Skillful’s move to a new state indicates that their programs might be relevant and scalable to other parts of the country, besides Colorado. Looking at the likely offering in store for Indiana, it seems that the entire Colorado playbook is being copied over, including:

  • Training for new data-driven career coaches
  • Employer groups that support skills-based hiring
  • Skills-based job postings and analytics provided to Indiana residents

The move to Indiana will provide a test case for determining whether the success to date is merely a function of whatever quirks there are about the Colorado regulatory environment, or the Skillful programs themselves. After 2 years incubating in Colorado, the Indiana rollout will also show us how quickly innovation can be scaled up in the workforce world.

Given its successes in Colorado and the promise of things to come in Indiana, I hope the Markle Foundation continues its focus on the World of Work for another 5 years, at least. A lot has been accomplished in the last 5 years, but there’s still 48 states left to go…

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Micah is the author of Rethink the MBA. He works and lives in Silicon Valley.