Utilizing our understanding of brain science to strengthen workforce engagement (part I).

Author:Desjardins, Kerry
Position::From our collaborative centers

Using brain science to strengthen workforce engagment and its application in human services delivery is new and largely untested. There are a few brain science-informed approaches to human services delivery and participant engagement that are delivering promising outcomes; few, however, specifically deal with employability, work readiness, and other aspects of workforce engagement. Using the existing research and tools in the area, as well as employability skills frameworks, APHSA's Center for Employment and Economic Well-Being (CEEWB) is taking a closer look at how the chronic stress of economic insecurity impacts people's work readiness and employability, and how the human services, workforce development, and education systems can utilize this understanding to better serve and empower unemployed and underemployed workers.

How Is the Brain Affected by Economic Hardship?

Brain development is strongly affected by the environment. Exposure to environmental risk factors such as poverty and chronic scarcity, social bias, toxic stress, trauma, and other related risk factors directly affect the development of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system. These areas of the brain deal with executive functioning such as problem-solving, decision-making, goal-setting, goal-attainment skills, and resiliency. In laymen's terms, living under conditions of chronic scarcity and economic insecurity often overloads people's mental bandwidth, and reduces the cognitive resources they can dedicate to activities aimed at long-term decision-making and goal-achievement.

The inherent stress of economic insecurity and chronic scarcity has the capacity to have a negative impact on the very cognitive and behavioral skills that low-income people need to prepare for, attain, and retain employment opportunities that can lead to their self-sufficiency and sustained well-being. The good news is that growing research shows that the developed adult brain is more flexible than previously thought, and that individuals can further develop their prefrontal cortex and limbic system and improve their executive functioning skills significantly.

What Are Executive Skills?

Executive skills--also referred to as executive functions, executive control, cognitive skills, or cognitive control--have been effectively described by LaDonna Pavetti as "a set off processes or skills that all have to do with managing oneself and one's resources in order to achieve a goal." These include:

* Skills...

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