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Michael O'Bryan - Reimagining Workforce Development


Professional background: Michael O’Bryan currently serves as Director of Youth and Young Adult Programs at The Village of Arts and Humanities. 

Project background: Michael’s project will reimagine workforce development practices and tools for marginalized youth, using a co-design process informed by leaders in the clinical and business sectors, as well as the lived expertise of these young people. His work focuses on the psycho-social or ‘soft’ skills increasingly valued in the labor market (e.g. creativity, adaptive thinking, and emotional intelligence). Understanding that early traumatic experiences can dramatically distort one’s skill development and long-term life trajectory, the project looks at how workforce development can internalize this, and create a new model that better serves populations dealing with trauma. 

Recent reports from the Brookings Institution, Pew, and Aspen Institute find ‘soft’ skills especially pertinent due to their potential resistance to automation. Further, clinical and public health research highlights that many of these skills can buffer the long-term mental health impacts of trauma. In this overlap, there is an opportunity to bring clinical, business, and young minds together to design tools, digital and process based, that integrate interventions targeting economic and psychosocial wellbeing. 

Such an approach can simultaneously improve employment opportunities for marginalized youth, while helping to strengthen their developmental courage in the face of adversity. The intentionality of this framework can generate a variety of tools that connect disparate youth populations to sectors of imminent growth in the region’s economy. Developing this framework will also inadvertently open the opportunity for existing employees to be included in a skills and development process that will benefit them and their employers in the face of rapid change and new trends. 

Ultimately, the hope is to reimagine the practices of Human Resources and talent development to prioritize skills that will remain relevant throughout the evolving relationship between human and automated labor. The research pursued during the Fellowship will yield a literature review and conduct a series of interviews, focus groups, and ideation sessions to produce a draft index of skills relevant to health, well-being, and employability. This research will also inform a related report focused on the future of the region’s labor force, drafted during this time in partnership with The Arts and Business Council. 

At the completion of the Fellowship, Michael and his team will be prepared to prototype a process that includes a digital tool that can test our assumptions in measuring 1-2 skills strategically selected from the index, as well as having supplemental training materials on the integration of trauma-informed practices and workforce development. They have an agreement contingent on funding to work with Dream See Do, a company with a software platform suitable for the prototype. 

Project updates: