Skilled Trades

Supporting Trenton’s Master Plan in time for the City’s 250th Anniversary

 The City of Trenton is looking ahead to a new chapter as a leading 21st-century city. In time for the 250th anniversary of its incorporation in 2042, the City envisions playing a role as a key economic and cultural hub in the region, built on education, arts, and industry. To chart its course forward, Trenton recently released Trenton 250, a comprehensive master plan reflecting a community-informed vision that will drive opportunities for citizens, businesses, and government. Through this stakeholder-driven process, Trenton has laid the groundwork for becoming a model capital city through investments in civic institutions and the construction of inclusive public spaces. We had the incredible opportunity to be on the team of consultants, led by Group Melvin Design, that supported the City of Trenton in designing this long-range plan that will drive economic development, education, housing, land use, and transit policies.

Our role focused on developing workforce and educational strategies, and helping Trenton plan for its goals of creating a vibrant economy and improving social mobility for its residents. We applied our extensive experience working within the workforce system to engage multiple local stakeholders, including the school district and the Workforce Investment Board, to determine priorities and explore opportunities to increase education levels and career trajectories for residents of all ages and backgrounds. We took a collaborative approach to our work, interviewing multiple participants and participating in brainstorming sessions with Trenton City officials and the rest of the consultant team. Also equipped with important labor market information, we delved deep into understanding what the issues were and what opportunities could be present.

Our programmatic recommendations included bolstering Pre-K to secondary education to improve graduation rates and student performance; opening new opportunities for adults to continue their education and explore relevant workforce opportunities; and encouraging lifelong learning. Specifically, we found that expanding school programs to teach more critical thinking and technology skills would drive positive employment outcomes in the future. For those beyond secondary school, we relied on our workforce expertise to identify an array of strategies that will prepare residents from a diverse range of backgrounds to attain and succeed in jobs that are and will be in high-demand.

Ultimately, we developed the education report, which outlines over 20 initiatives that came from engaging the right array of people and highlighting best practices from all over the country. Implementing these initiatives will enhance access to learning opportunities for all Trenton residents, enabling the city’s residents to access short-term job opportunities while simultaneously being prepared to take advantage of new opportunities in an ever-shifting economy.

Read the full Trenton250 plan to learn more about its vision for the future and blueprint for getting there.

WorkHands: A Unique Tech Solution to a Workforce Development Problem

workhands-415x217 copyA few months ago we wrote about Tumml, the San Francisco-based business accelerator that supports early-stage companies. What was unique about Tumml is that it focuses on companies specifically developing innovative solutions to urban problems.

So we were thrilled to learn that our friend and former NYC government colleague, Patrick Cushing, was accepted to the program. He received funding, technical assistance, and other support to launch his new venture, WorkHands.

We were even more thrilled to learn that WorkHands is the kind of technology solution that speaks to so many of our interests. WorkHands is, in short, a LinkedIn for the skilled trades—plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, and the like. It was born out of Patrick’s desire to promote the under-appreciated trades fields and to help solve the vexing public policy problems around these jobs. On the supply side, not enough new workers are being trained to replace the waves of older workers retiring from these hands-on jobs. On the demand side, employers struggle to find appropriately trained trades workers, leading to unfilled jobs and delayed projects.

Patrick knew that existing private- and public-sector solutions weren’t helping to close that gap. In San Francisco, for instance, public workforce programs have encouraged more people to enter the trades to help address the supply shortage. But public economic development programs that encourage local hiring of trades workers are falling well short of their goals due to the lack of qualified local workers.

Tools like Craigslist and word-of-mouth referrals lack the critical mass of workers and employers gathered in one central place—important for a competitive labor market. LinkedIn is too focused on white-collar jobs and doesn’t allow trades workers to showcase their certifications, or the visual fruits of their labor in ways that make sense for their industries. Customers, after all, often want to see examples of finished projects to help them judge the fit of a trades worker for their task.


After receiving key technical and financial support from the Tumml program, WorkHands was able to relocate its team to San Francisco to work full-time on the project and establish key relationships with trade schools, employers, and economic development agencies. After a few months in beta, it launched to the public on September 10, 2013. It’s already attracted lots of attention from employers eager to post jobs, and trades workers are rapidly signing up and spreading news of the site via word of mouth—and the all-important hardhat sticker.


Patrick and his team are hard at work to build iPhone and Android apps for WorkHands and expand the reach of the site to more employers and workers. We’re can’t wait to see what they accomplish next!


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