A Harvard Community Program: A New Approach to Workforce Development — And Why it Worked

April 2, 2020

See Harvard University's brilliant workforce development program.

In October of 2019, Joan Clifford had all the traits of the quintessential ambitious young professional: associate’s degree, data coordinator job during the day, pursuing her bachelor’s degree at night. But internally, there was one prevailing emotion she just couldn’t shake —


“Was I in the right degree program?” Clifford said, listing off the questions for herself she didn’t quite have the answers to. “What did I want to do after graduation (from Southern New Hampshire University for my bachelor’s degree) - a new career or more school? How do I start setting myself up for success now so the transition post-degree would be easier?”

Flash forward six months, and virtually all of those doubts are gone. Plus, Clifford has a new job as a project analyst at Partners HealthCare, along with a much clearer grasp on what she wants in her career moving forward.

What caused the transformation? She chalks it up to Test Your Career program, sponsored by Harvard, owned by Jane McHale and featuring LinkedIn Learning. Clifford was in the first cohort of Bostonians to take advantage of the community program, and her success – along with similar stories of other people in her cohort – has encouraged Harvard to further expand it.

“I can’t say enough good things about the program,” Clifford said. “I just started a great new job thanks entirely to the knowledge I gained and the connections I made in the program, combined with the learning opportunities from LinkedIn Learning.”  

“It was an excellent opportunity to get to know yourself a bit better and, to paraphrase my coach a bit, to find the thing you get lost doing — that thing that makes you lose track of time,” she added.

What is the Test Your Career program? Essentially, a learning community focused on defining and achieving professional goals.

Along with being among the most prestigious universities in the world, Harvard has an “Ed Portal,” which is the place where the university and local Allston-Brighton communities come together. Programming offered through the Ed Portal is free and open to members of the local Allston-Brighton community. Its goal, according to its website, is for the Harvard and Allston-Brighton communities to “collaborate on innovative programming spanning from K–12 education and family programs to opportunities for digital learning, career and economic development, personal wellness and the arts.”

As is the university’s nature, Harvard is focused on always improving the Ed Portal, including launching new programs. The latest such example is the Test Your Career program, which was created and owned by McHale of Jane McHale Career Services. The program launched in the fall of 2019 and is open to members of the Allston-Brighton community.

The program itself is a combination of online and in-person learning. It starts with a cohort of community members coming in to meet with McHale, who serves as their career counselor, and take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Strong Interest Inventory and SkillScan assessments. This gives the cohort a better understanding of what energizes them, which they use to create realistic goals to advance their career.

Then, the cohort uses LinkedIn Learning to build the skills necessary to achieve those goals. In Clifford’s case, for example, the assessments and McHale's coaching helped her identify that she was energized by analyzing data and she was also hungry to get a new job. So, she took LinkedIn Learning courses on data science and job interviewing, which prepared her to get a new job as an analyst.

Monthly, the participants come together to talk about what they learned, their goals and offer advice to each other. This creates a de facto community among the cohort of participants.

The results of the program – a successful first run, with plans of expansion.

So, how did the Test Your Career program go in its first iteration?

The first cohort of participants had five people. Four of those received LinkedIn Learning certifications across 25 different courses, ranging from project management to design thinking to SQL.

While Clifford had the most tangible outcome of landing a new job directly related to the program, the feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive. That was more-than-enough for Harvard to consider it a success, and now they are looking to expand the program this year to another 25 participants.

“The program has been a success so far,” Harvard Ed Portal Project Manager Leah Dodell said. “It’s amazing to see what a difference the program here has already made in our community members’ lives!”

All told, what makes the program work is the seamless combination of in-person and online learning. With the assessments used to identify specific goals, LinkedIn Learning used to fill the gaps needed to reach those goals and monthly meetups designed to foster a community, participants are given a clear, supportive path toward advancing their career.

“The Test Your Career program was wonderful,” Clifford said. “Through the program, I was able to better understand what parts of this career path were exciting to me, so I was able to lean on that knowledge to demonstrate my passion and excitement at the job fair.”

“LinkedIn Learning provided the final piece where I was able to turn my interest in the subject into badges on my LinkedIn page,” she added. “I think the commitment to continued learning those badges represent really made me stand out from other applicants.”