Neighborhood Employment Hubs provide lessons for workforce development in Battle Creek


In 2018, Michigan Works! Southwest, a regional workforce development agency, launched Neighborhood Employment Hubs in Battle Creek, Michigan. The goal was to create more opportunity and stronger pathways to good jobs for residents in marginalized communities by intentionally embedding services into community organizations already operating in the neighborhoods. Across the country, 55 million Americans live in distressed neighborhoods, where the unemployment rate is much higher than in the rest of their local labor market. The hubs were designed to provide comprehensive services and address the many barriers confronting neighborhood residents in their quest for economic stability and opportunity. 

After four years in operation, a recent report from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research identified four key lessons learned from the Hub that can inform the broader field of employment equity: 

Before beginning any training, focus on eliminating barriers to employment. By helping residents first secure child care, transportation and appropriate equipment or clothing, service providers help remove barriers and allow residents to fully focus on their job search.

Building long-term relationships builds trust within the community. Job seekers typically work with Hubs staff for 12 months, allowing time to build trust and rapport. Many staff also live nearby and participate in local community activities. These relationships lead to more word-of-mouth referrals, continuing the cycle of trust.

A flexible funding model allows for important barriers to be addressed. Hubs funding comes primarily from a private grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, allowing a degree of flexibility in the use of funds uncommon among service programs. For example, a person might have a car and yet be unable to use it for job interviews or going to work because the driver cannot afford car insurance. Hubs funding can help the person find and pay for insurance in order to facilitate their job search and retention. Most publicly funded job training programs would be unable to cover such expenses.

Coordination and alignment among service providers is essential for maximizing the impact of workforce development systems. To better serve communities, a consortium of providers works collaboratively to coordinate and align resources.  This reduces the need for customers to redundantly fill out multiple intake forms, speak with various service representatives, or otherwise get lost in the shuffle.

In addition, Hubs coaches work to understand the needs of local businesses and develop trusted partnerships, expanding the pipeline of employment opportunities. They then use this local knowledge to pair potential employees with jobs that provide a welcoming work environment capable of meeting individual needs. 

Overall, the efforts of the Neighborhood Employment Hubs are paying off. While the initial goal was to provide resources to 700 people in the first three years, the programs served double that number, helping to eliminate barriers and provide training for 1,400 individuals.

W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research’s Annual Report

More information about the Neighborhood Employment Hubs is included in the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research’s latest annual report, Bridging Research and Practice to Achieve Community Prosperity. In addition to the Neighborhood Employment Hubs, the report also includes nine more features about interesting work around the country. A sampling of articles includes:

  • “6 Key Takeaways on Effective Place-Based Policies from Our 2022 Affiliate Convening” outlines best practices identified by practitioners of these efforts.
  • “Minneapolis & St. Paul: Tale of Two Cities” compares Minneapolis’ development- oriented approach to expanding housing options with St. Paul’s use of blunt tools like rent control that ultimately constrain housing supply. The authors declare that “the contrast could not be clearer” as Minneapolis builds a robust pipeline of new development projects while permitting in St. Paul has seen a marked slowdown.
  • “State Governments Can Do More to Help Their Distressed Places” identifies cost-effective local job creation policies for ocal governments to undertake, including focused job training programs provided through community colleges and manufacturing extension services that work with local small- and medium-sized businesses. 
  • The high cost of child and elder care is the topic of “State Tax Strategies to Reduce Care Costs.” The article discusses both the range of approaches states take to help finance this care and the options available to ensure these funds ensure quality care.
  • “Promise Programs Are Getting the Job Done” summarizes the evolution of promise programs – place-based scholarship programs to alleviate the burden of college debt – to focus on the school-to-workforce transition and offers new innovations for the field. 

The full report, Bridging Research and Practice to Achieve Community Prosperity, is available for download on the website of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.


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