By: Rob Camoin, Michael N’dolo, and Ian Flatt
The following article appears
in the July/August 2015 issue of Expansion
Economic developers from across the country hear the same
chorus again and again from their major employers: “We are hiring and we can’t
find the people we need!” Indeed, the lack of sufficient quantities of skilled
workers is a real brake on economic growth that appears likely to worsen as
skilled baby-boomers begin to retire in greater numbers. This workforce gap is
particularly puzzling when juxtaposed with the number of unemployed and
under-employed people seeking better wages.
In part, to deal with this human and economic problem,
President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
(WIOA) into law in 2014. WIOA is the replacement to the Workforce Investment
Act of 1998 and is meant to better “match employers with the skilled workers
they need to compete in the global economy.” We believe that WIOA offers
a real platform to allow economic developers to engage with their local
Workforce Investment Boards in a new and more comprehensive way. Below we
describe two case studies where just such a collaboration has yielded fruit in
the form of a more integrated economic developer-workforce development system.
We also provide recommendations for others wishing to build this
economic-workforce bridge in their own communities.
But first, how does WIOA offer a new platform for economic
developers? WIOA has a strong emphasis on training and an increased level of
flexibility for local groups to tailor programs to suit local employer’s needs.
In fact, in his State of the Union address that launched this effort, President
Obama specifically stated that, “[WIOA] means more on-the-job training, and
more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life.
It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training
to fill their specific needs.” This moves the arc of workforce development
somewhat away from its “social services for the poor” history that is focused
on the individual and into a newer, employer or demand-focused mission of
educating people for specific jobs as shown in the graphic below.
Vice President Biden was named as the point person to
spearhead the effort and he established a “Job-Driven Checklist” that embodies
this shift, summarized as: (1) engaging employers, (2) offering work-based
apprenticeships, (3) using data to inform program composition, (4) measuring
outcomes, (5) identifying educational and career based pathways, and (6)
coordinating various agencies that are involved in workforce development.
In this way, WIOA ties more closely to economic development than its
predecessor, the WIA.
In practice, everyone is still attempting to figure out how
to implement this transition. We have assisted two such communities in this
transition planning effort, namely Saratoga County, NY and the Southeast PA
Partnership for Regional Economic Performance (PREP), a six county alliance of
economic and workforce leaders in the Philadelphia Metro Area.
Saratoga County, NY Case Study
In Saratoga County, NY, many of the workforce needs
identified through the study are being addressed by one or more programs or
organizations in the region. However, the impact of these programs can be
limited by their funding, capacity, and marketing capabilities. Instead of
developing a plan that created new initiatives or programs, the Saratoga County
economic and workforce development partners (Saratoga Economic Development
Corporation-SEDC and Saratoga-Warren-Washington Counties Workforce Investment Board
- SWW WIB) decided to limit the number of new initiatives and focus instead on
developing a plan that would support existing programs that are already
addressing the region’s challenges. To do so, SEDC and the SWW WIB (“partners”)
decided to choose a limited number of specific, high-value industry sectors to
Saratoga County was lucky to have just wrapped up a
county-wide economic development strategy that named five industry sectors of
interest in the County. However, the partners were most interested in
concentrating on the highest-impact avenues for workforce development, which
was defined as: (1) high growth/high replacement need, (2) relatively high
wages, and (3) realistic education requirements. On this last point, the
partners realized it was unlikely to influence the number of students
graduating with advanced degrees (i.e. Master Degree and above) but could have
a significant impact in the “middle skill” jobs requiring at least a high
school diploma but less than a Bachelor’s Degree (see graphic below). Based on
those criteria, the partners chose the following three major sectors to be the
focus of the effort: advanced manufacturing, tourism & hospitality, and
health & wellness.
True to the WIOA mandate, the next step was a series of 40
in-depth interviews. This included many employers, both private for-profit
businesses as well as major institutions such as the regional hospital. We
asked them what skills they needed, what their occupational-related demands
were and what skill sets were specifically lacking (i.e. pipeline of labor).
Also interviewed were “training providers” defined in the broadest possible way
to include K-12 educators, colleges, community colleges and the regional BOCES
(Board of Cooperative Educational Services) as well as other traditional
workforce development providers. We asked them to explain their process for how
they figured out the skill demands for regional employers, what they viewed as
the opportunities to improve Saratoga’s workforce system, and the greatest
obstacles to more effectively addressing Saratoga’s workforce challenges.
Almost across the board, the #1 concern everyone is worried
about is replacement jobs more so than filling new positions. In part, this is
because sectors such as advanced manufacturing are quite unlikely to be opening
up significant numbers of new jobs as they move further and further into
capital-intensive production. But a much bigger contributor to this concern is
the mere fact that troves of highly-skilled baby-boomers are set to retire in
short order with little in the way of young skilled workers to backfill those
positions. In one instance, an advanced manufacturer was expecting to lose 20
percent of their skilled labor over the next five years. Countywide, as shown
in the bar chart below, around two-thirds of all employment opportunities in
the coming years will come from replacement of workers and only about one-third
from new jobs being created. This is even more pronounced when we focus on the
three targeted sectors for the workforce development plan.
second big take-away is that in Saratoga, like many communities across the
country, the capacity of workforce personnel and economic developers to
implement new initiatives is limited. So, to address the area’s workforce
challenges without creating new burdens on partners, the workforce development
system as a whole needed to better “connect-the-dots” between existing
resources, job seekers, and employers. Specifically, there is little need for
new programs because the programs in place can be refined and adapted to better
effect. Interviewees pointed to the need to better promote programs and then,
secondly, streamline the programs in place to get more potential workers
Based on discussions with employers in the region, building
awareness of the resources available to employers through the economic
development and workforce systems was also identified as a priority.
Recognizing the limited capacity of the partners to conduct more business
outreach, the partners instead focused on developing mechanisms to better
coordinate business outreach. SEDC and the SWW WIB agreed to cross-train their
business outreach representatives on all relevant employer programs so that
everyone engaged in outreach can “sell” programs to employers that best match
their exact needs, regardless of whether they are housed at the agency
represented. This training would also incorporate other business outreach
partners, such as community colleges, chambers of commerce, and the state
department of labor.
Philadelphia Metro Case Study
In response to a grant opportunity from the Pennsylvania
Department of Labor and Industry, a broad coalition of economic and workforce
development organizations in the Philadelphia Metro area created a partnership
to tackle issues of career awareness and employer-driven training, specifically
for the manufacturing industry. Recognizing the value of this regional and
cross-sector collaboration, the group elected to develop a framework and
strategic plan for continued collaboration after the grant expired. The
workforce and economic development system in the region was much more dispersed
than Saratoga’s, given the much larger geography and population being served.
The first step was to review the myriad workforce and economic development
plans, determine how to tie them together and identify the commonalities of
mission from across the spectrum of the agencies. Subsequently, the group
engaged in two collaborative “partner forums,” focused on prioritizing the top
challenges and opportunities in the region and on developing a vision for the
of developing new systems and programs, the planning effort was focused on
connecting the diverse group of partners more closely and developing strategies
to address regional priorities while limiting the development of new
capacity-intensive initiatives. In recognition of the importance of
collaboration between economic development and workforce development, the
planning effort included a total over 20 agencies, including workforce
investment boards, economic development agencies, Small Business Development
Centers, and the region’s manufacturing extension partnerships (MEPs).
All four major take-aways from Philadelphia revolved around
cooperation between agencies. Identical to the Saratoga County findings, the
agencies felt that cross-promotion marketing was an area of obvious improvement
for the system. This again meant each organization educating their outreach
staff in all the various programs available to assist employers so that they
would be empowered to make appropriate referrals.
Likewise, all the parties agreed that economic development
agencies had a key component to share with their workforce counterparts –
namely, the deep network of business community leadership contacts that would
allow for feedback about their needs into the workforce development system.
Another area of widespread agreement was the need to
regularly share “best practices” across agencies. The group agreed to hold a
mini-workgroup session several times per year to have face-to-face
communication of these best practices.
Finally, similar to the Saratoga County plan, there appears
to be general consensus on the need to coordinate on the marketing of existing
programs. The participants noted that there are already many programs, some of
which are operating below capacity coupled with a general lack of awareness in
local population. Perhaps more importantly, there appeared to be a lack of
awareness of even the existence of jobs “sitting behind” the programs – the
kinds of well-paying jobs that would accrue to successful program participants.
Therefore, the marketing had to not only focus on the workforce development
programs but to raise awareness in the general population of the host of job
opportunities that exist in middle-skill jobs with good wages.
for Future Collaborations
For those who are considering undertaking a WIOA-inspired
planning effort of the same type as above, the following are the “lessons
learned” from our case studies on how to best move forward:
Begin by developing closer working relationships
between economic development and workforce officials. Many organizations start
by cross-pollenating their boards and becoming educated on the various programs
each has to offer.
Work with both economic and workforce partners
to identify the highest priority workforce challenges. Develop consensus among
a range of partners to address those challenges as well as a workforce vision
for the region.
Focus on only one to three relatively
narrowly-defined sectors to start. More than this can dilute your effort and
spread already burdened organizations to thin.
Support existing programs in region: chances
are, someone is already addressing the need identified. Look first to scale up
existing initiatives and only develop new initiatives when needed and
Develop the plan with an eye on implementation:
what actions are reasonable for the partners to accomplish, given their
Include capacity building as part of the
strategy to cover leadership, personnel and funding sustainability.
Finally, refer to the job driven checklist to
make sure your plan is addressing one or more of its priorities.