Strategically Virtual: Building Communities of Care

January 25, 2021

As COVID-19 continues to affect the economy and labor market and the pathways to recovery remain unclear, state and local workforce agencies continue to adapt to new conditions and challenges to adequately support the millions of unemployed Americans at this time. Over the course of the past year, the demands placed on the public workforce system have grown more complex, and it has become apparent that no one entity or organization can bear the full weight of addressing the diverse needs of those who are currently searching for work.

In order to build the capacity to respond rapidly to help residents in times of economic shocks, such as the pandemic, cyclical recessions, and massive unemployment, a key component of our ability to move forward is community. This means harnessing community resources in service of job seeker needs. It also means building communities of care to support the social and emotional needs of job seekers during these times. Researchers at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development define community building in two ways: the aggregation of resources and services to address unemployment needs, and the creation of safe, welcoming, inclusive spaces where people searching for work can experience connection and belonging.

There is a pressing need for services that address the mental, social, and emotional impacts of job search on job seekers. Building Communities of Care in Workforce Development Programs, a new brief from the Heldrich Center, offers guidance on how to create communities of care that are critical to addressing the all-too-common feelings of isolation, depression, and rejection typically associated with unemployment. With a community-building focus, this approach can tend to the needs of the whole person, more effectively dealing with a range of barriers that impede job search and overall well-being.

This brief builds upon lessons learned from New Jersey public libraries in how the public workforce system could navigate a greater role in community coordination and cultivation. Community-focused service provision could be considered a path forward in assisting unemployed individuals in regaining solid ground, so that they may more effectively search for their next employment opportunity. Workforce Development Boards could assume the role of community aggregator and creator as well as make holistic job seeker care an essential component of service delivery.

The COVID-19 pandemic has collapsed demand in the labor market across many industries and sectors, such that traditional job seeker service models and mechanisms will not be enough to effectively help the millions of people searching for work. The public workforce system could consider how a redefinition and expansion of job seeker services to include community-based programming and holistic care could be effective at this time. Heldrich Center researchers believe that the lessons learned and services reconfigured in this time of great need will continue to be beneficial and supportive of job seekers even in future and more prosperous times.

For more details about this approach to building communities of care in workforce development programs, read the research latest brief.


In the Suddenly Virtual series, the Heldrich Center examined how the public workforce system had adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, providing case management, training, and job search services in an online environment. The Strategically Virtual series builds on this work, outlining how the public workforce system can use technology and community partnerships more effectively to expand services, address job seeker mental and emotional well-being, and ensure that a broader range of the public is able to access supports during a time of social distancing and massive job loss. The Strategically Virtual series is producing issue briefs, Medium blog posts, practical guides, and more. View all of the Strategically Virtual blog posts.

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