Developing Workforce Development Strategies

Ed Quintavalle ·

A man is in a hot air balloon that is slowly losing altitude. He ends up hovering over the side of the road in the desert. Another man happens by. The man in the balloon calls down to him, "Sir, could you tell me where I am?" The man looks up, assesses the situation, and responds: "Yes, you are about 30 feet in the air on the side of the road in the desert." The man in the balloon, unamused at the response, calls down, "Thanks Einstein ... you must be a workforce development consultant." "What do you mean?" responds the other man. "You just told me everything that I already knew and were no help whatsoever." The fella looks up at the man in the balloon and says, "I would guess that you work for a company that’s in serious trouble." "Why do you say that?" responds the man in the balloon. "Because you have no idea where you are, no idea where you are going, and no idea how to get there from here."

This is a somewhat humorous anecdote for the application of Workforce Development (WD) strategies. I wouldn’t say that WD consultants only reveal everything that employers already know; nor are employers always totally in the dark about their plight. However, when information is qualified through a data-driven analysis, it usually comes as no big surprise for employers where their weakest workforce links are located. Lack of training (critical skills and basic skills) often haunt a company until data is presented that validates what many already suspected.

Historically, WD was considered a secondary option to pursuing higher education. It was defined as providing training to produce more and better prepared workers. Workforce development leaders have since pushed for a more expansive view. The viewpoint now is that WD is considered to be more than a single program or initiative. It is an interconnected set of solutions to meet employment needs: It prepares workers with needed skills, emphasizes the value of workplace learning and addresses the hiring demands of employers from the outset. The goal is to place workers in jobs where there are career development opportunities.

Today, sector approach is widely accepted among policymakers, investors and WD leaders as best practice, and sector initiatives operate across the county and in many industries. The sector approach focuses on matching workers’ skills to the needs in an industry they’re already in, or committed to entering into the region.

Sector strategies are designed to fit the needs of both industry employers and workers who want to improve their skills and advance their career development. By definition, sector-based approaches must target a specific industry. Sector strategies are typically created through networks and partnerships. These partnerships are designed to connect low-income or disadvantaged individuals with employment in jobs that offer promise of financial stability and significant growth in the industry in the near future.

Community involvement is also an important component in building a sector-based strategy. Specifically, the involvement of an intermediary with deep knowledge of the industry is necessary. The intermediary can facilitate partnerships with employers, and help create solutions for both employers and potential employees. Employers will be encouraged to participate in activities such as developing curriculum, creating evaluation and assessment tools, and committing to job shadow programs.

Because the sector approach targets an entire sector, rather than a single company, a sector strategy often involves the government working side-by-side with industry leaders to help an entire sector become more competitive. Closely related to the sector strategies are “career pathway” models, which combine classroom training, work experience and credential attainment to move workers through a set of jobs and occupations within particular sectors.

To better prepare the workforce trainee for long-term and general labor market skill needs we should expand apprenticeships and other forms of work-based learning, while also making sure that they provide a broad mix of general and sector-specific skills. Incorporating the many forms of postsecondary credentials from private industry, as well as the full range of educational institutions, would be beneficial for both employers and workers and create better opportunities for individuals to obtain ‘lifelong learning’ when their skills become obsolete or need upgrading due to technological change and restructuring.

WD strategies aim to deliver targeted education, training, and employment support services that allow people to improve their opportunities for employment. These initiatives assist governments, universities, and training institutions to understand and anticipate the changing demand for skills. They also build tools and systems that bring together job seekers and employers.

At EDSI Consulting, we’ve worked with public and private industry partners, providing the research data, facilitation and application of the analysis process for the assessment of workforce assets and needs. The assessment data is used for customized curriculum and training development that connects to, and aligns with regional economic development and job growth strategies. Ultimately, this content serves as the foundation for building a qualified worker pipeline, and a career pathway for the workforce while helping industry sector partnerships, organizations and individuals reach their full potential.