Better Careers Design Group

Better Careers Design Group: Using Human-Centered Design to Advance Equitable Economic Outcomes in California

Practice Area: Economic Mobility Scope: County Location: CA Status: Closed

Project Overview

The Better Careers Design Group was a multi-year initiative across four California counties that brought together government agencies, nonprofits, and local community members to design  human-centered and outcomes-oriented solutions for systemic workforce challenges and to advance the equitable economic outcomes in California. Third Sector led the group of 20 participating organizations through each phase of the human-centered design process so that local teams could apply lessons learned to engaging members of their local community.


Everyone should have the opportunity to have a job or career that they love and that pays them a wage that helps them support their families. But today, there are millions of Californians who don’t have access to these kinds of job opportunities because government officials and employers have created and maintained barriers based on what we look like, where we live, or what mistakes we may have made in the past. Fortunately, many government social service agencies and nonprofit providers in the state are working hard to remove these barriers and connect people to job opportunities, but are still struggling to break down silos and build efficient systems that will help people find the jobs and careers of their dreams.


The Design Group was a multi-year initiative funded by the James Irvine Foundation Better Career initiative that is designed to address this challenge by bringing together government agencies, nonprofits and local community members to identify ways to ensure that government services are efficiently and meaningfully creating opportunities for people to find the jobs and careers of their dreams. 

Between January 2020 and September 2021 Third Sector and the Design Group engaged more than 250 people across four local teams in distinct regions of California in order to understand their unique local challenges and design solutions to address them. For each of the four teams, a local “backbone” organization is tasked with building out the pilot program, with support from its local team members.

The Irvine Foundation brought on Third Sector to provide technical assistance to each of the four backbone organizations to help get pilots up and running. Third Sector led the group of 20 Design Group organizations through each phase of the human-centered design process so that local teams could apply lessons learned to engaging members of their local community. This work included:

  • Connecting with people who are directly impacted by the teams’ pilot program in order to improve how the program is run;
  • Creating continuous improvement processes that ensure the teams’ pilot is enrolling and engaging people equitably and creating strong impact; and
  • Connecting pilot programs to funding opportunities to both expand the number of people programs are able to serve and sustain programs after the pilot phase.

Each of the four teams launched a pilot program to meaningfully create opportunities for people to find the jobs and careers of their dreams

  • Team Alameda’s Returning Home Career Grant provides cash payments to people returning home from Santa Rita Jail, and provides mentorship opportunities to help recipients get connected to jobs or careers that pay salaries that can support a family or start their own businesses.
  • Team Los Angeles created a program focused in South LA and the Antelope Valley regions of LA counties that helps employers hire, retain, and cultivate local systems-impacted young adult people - young adult people with experience in the criminal-legal system, foster care system, social services, etc. -  through an employer training and employee mentorship program.
  • Team Central Coast’s Life Skills Mentorship Program equips middle school children in rural areas of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties with critical life skills they need to succeed in the modern world, such as financial literacy, social-emotional well-being, entrepreneurship and civic engagement
  • Team Inland Empire created a program to identify and secure apprenticeships for young people who struggle the most to find well-paying jobs, including young people who are experiencing homelessness or who've had contact with the criminal-legal system.
Practice area:

Economic Mobility

Third Sector works with communities and our government agencies to reimagine basic needs, education, and training supports and that help people find the careers and lives of their dreams.
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Practice Area Managing Director, Economic Mobility