While workforce development is constantly evolving, the mission remains the same: to advance the economic well-being of regions by developing and maintaining a quality workforce. This mission is achieved by the co-location and integration of employment, training, education and economic development services for jobseekers, workers and employers.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law by President Obama in 2014 as a nationwide effort to ensure “that federally funded training programs are singularly focused on preparing Americans with marketable skills.” The importance of national workforce education and development cannot be underestimated. It is crucial in creating economic growth and providing learning to make individuals competitive in the global economy.

Creating a high-caliber workforce is the role of all Local Workforce Development Boards (WDB). This is accomplished through the creation of local policy, procurement of quality service providers, and engaging local employers and jobseekers through innovative outreach and service strategies such as industry sector initiatives, work-based learning and customized training programs, and expansion of career pathways.

This guide was designed to give an overview of workforce development strategy, and speaks to workforce development board executive directors, board members, and workforce service providers on specific strategies to optimize and improve success of their programs. Within this guide you will learn how to design impactful jobseeker services, build clear career pathways, and optimize one-stop Center service delivery. By implementing the concepts/techniques in this guide your local region will be able to enhance the services provided as well as improve outcomes for jobseekers.

As mentioned earlier, the goal of workforce development is to improve the local economy by building a world-class workforce. American Job Centers (AJC) are strategically positioned to provide services that aid local areas in achieving this goal. In order to support a comprehensive, high-quality workforce development system, WDBs must strategically plan the services they will provide to employers and jobseekers, as well as effectively organize the AJCs.

Building Strategic Employer Services

Engaging employers is essential to successful workforce development. By providing quality engagement to employers, through the AJCs, WDBs can determine local hiring and training needs and implement services to meet those needs. There are many ways to engage and partner with employers, some of which include:

  • Developing industry partnerships
  • Building local career pathways
  • Providing incumbent worker training
  • Assisting with the costs of new hire training

Employer and labor organization engagement is critical in assisting local WDBs in designing new, relevant and up-to-date training opportunities. Working with employers and understanding their needs leads to better outcomes for jobseekers. Public and private workforce development funders are increasingly requiring service providers to have employers at the table in order to obtain funding support. How well does your local area engage employers? Do employers in your region view the WDB as a true partner or do they view the WDB as a governmental agency with lots of red tape? To learn more about how to develop the professional skills of your business services team and build strong relationships with your local employers click here.

While the goal is to help program participants prepare for and secure jobs, there are many other reasons why workforce organizations should collaborate with employers and organized labor organizations.

Working with employers and organized labor can help:

  • Build knowledge of industries or occupations: This can lead to innovative program design, but also help participants make informed choices about program participation and true engagement in career planning.
  • Enable participants to gain appropriate skills and experience: Employers can help participants gain skills by enhancing program design, but they can also play a strategic role in the development of apprenticeships and internship opportunities.
  • Establish networks: Employers and organized labor can help market job opportunities.
  • Beneficial change for workers: Improvements for workers and access to trainings that could lead to better wages or working conditions.
  • Access to new resources: Employers and organized labor can contribute in-kind resources like training space or industry-relevant equipment.
Strategic plan
WDBs should utilize labor market data to analyze and understand regional workforce trends, skill gaps, and in-demand industry sectors and occupations.

WDBs should develop a strategic plan for employer engagement, and be deliberate about their reasons and methods for engaging employers. When developing the strategic plan, WDBs should utilize labor market data to analyze and understand regional workforce trends, skill gaps, and in-demand industry sectors and occupations. The strategic plan should provide for coordination with partners such as EDOs to expand and enhance outreach and services to businesses.

Developing Industry Partnerships

Industry partnerships, sometimes referred to as sector partnerships or alliances, bring together and organize employers, education, and other workforce stakeholders in a specific industry with the goal of developing and implementing strategies to grow (or save) that industry. The strategies often focus on building new workforce pipelines where skilled worker shortages exist, as well as changing how existing workers are utilized and retrained to maximize long-term productivity.

Industry partnerships promote industry growth and competitiveness by developing immediate strategies to fill pressing skilled workforce needs, as well as long-term plans for future industry growth utilizing new technologies and work processes that require a more skilled workforce. Industry partnerships improve worker training, retention and advancement by developing cross-firm skill standards and career pathways.

Industry partnerships have the advantage of being able to share training resources and support capacities that help facilitate the advancement of workers at all skill levels, including the least skilled.

Over the past decade industry partnerships and sector initiatives have proven to be effective ways for workforce investment boards to:

  • Better understand the workforce needs and challenges of specific industries
  • Bring together leaders from the business and workforce development communities to address the needs and challenges identified by the sector initiatives
  • Develop more effective workforce development programs, services and policies in order to better prepare the local and regional workforce
  • Develop industry ‘alliances’ that represent the workforce and workforce development interests of their industries

The close working relationship of the partners allows for better labor market research and an improved understanding of the industry’s workforce needs and the workforce development system’s programs and services. Partnerships can leverage resources to develop new training programs or seek funds for special projects, enhance the development of new programs and services for incumbent workers, and improves mapping of career pathways and entry-level employment opportunities.

Industry partnerships are typically convened by local workforce development boards and led by a strategic partner with deep industry knowledge that coordinates worker and workplace solutions. They target a specific industry, customizing solutions for multiple employers in that industry, region, and community. The most effective industry partnerships develop strategies that encourage partnerships across traditional boundaries, linking workforce and economic development and creating regional alignment.

The steps to creating an industry partnership may include:

  1. LWDB identifies an industry in need of support
  2. LWDB identifies a strategic partner, often an industry association
  3. LWDB and strategic partner puts out a call for industry employers interested in joining the industry partnership
  4. LWDB identifies a person to lead the industry partnership
  5. LWDB, strategic partners, and the leader convene the industry partnership
  6. Industry partnership, guided by the leader and supported by the LWDB determines the goals of the industry partnership, develops and implements a strategy to achieve the goals.

Industries with represented workforces invite union leaders to join the industry partnerships. During their formation the industry partnerships often commission an industry workforce needs analysis leveraging labor market information to clearly define the workforce needs and challenges. After the workforce stakeholders have defined the workforce needs, training providers and educational institutions are invited to participate in partnership meetings when workforce training needs are discussed.

Successful industry partnership understand that workforce development is economic development.

Expanding and Optimizing Training Opportunities

WIOA provides local WDBs the opportunity to expand training and educational opportunities for jobseekers. The goal is to help low-income individuals, young adults, dislocated workers, and individuals with limited skills and barriers to employment, to earn industry-recognized credentials and advance in the workplace. Does your local region have optimized training programs?

Optimizing training programs requires WDBs to be creative in their approach to funding the training needed by jobseekers. Did you know WDBs can now offer more training specifically targeted for high-demand occupations or industry sectors, in addition to Individual Training Accounts (ITAs)? This means that WDBS should be partnering with education and training providers to develop customized training programs that meet the skills needs of specific employers. Additionally, WDBs can collaborate with employers to provide work-based learning opportunities such as On-the-Job Trainings (OJTs), apprenticeships and Paid Work Experiences (PWEs). Work-based learning enables jobseekers to “earn while they learn” and assists employers to reduce the business costs of training new employees. WDBs can now use WIOA funds to provide new training models that will lead to:

  • Industry-recognized credentials
  • Apprenticeships
  • Integrated educational/training approaches
  • Career Pathways
  • Industry Partnerships
  • Cohort-based training

In addition, WDBs can now use a portion of their local Title I funds to pay for performance contracts for specific targeted populations. They will be required to evaluate how each targeted population was selected, along with outcomes of training.

Designing State of the Art Jobseeker Services

Individual career services are offered to assist people in obtaining or retaining employment. In order to optimize services, AJC partners should use assessments (both comprehensive and specialized) to understand the individual skill levels of jobseekers. This in turn allows partners to determine the services needed for each job seeker to succeed. Individuals seeking assistance are required to develop, with the support of center partners, an individual employment plan (IEP). Are your jobseekers’ IEPs individualized or are they cookie cutter? If they are closer to cookie cutter than individualized click here to learn more about how to train your staff to provide more individualized services. Each participant has the opportunity to utilize all services available to achieve their employment goals. The career navigator/counselor should be aiding the jobseekers in determining which services are best suited to meet the needs of the job seeker.

What are the Career Services provided under WIOA?

Basic Career Services

These are available to all individuals within a local area.

Individualized Career Services

These are only available to individuals who meet certain enrollment criteria.

Follow-up Services

These are for individuals who have received individualized services and have been placed into unsubsidized employment.

Wioa career services
Career Services provided under WIOA

With the elimination of sequence of services, local areas and service providers now have the flexibility to target services specifically tailored to meet the needs of each individual customer. WIOA career services include program components such as career navigation and counseling, career readiness assessments, job readiness workshops and job search support, access to labor market information, supportive services and job placement. Individuals who provide these services in the American Job Centers must understand the various skills required by employers, while providing individuals with an understanding of the skills requirements, career pathways and other career opportunities.

Career Navigation Services professionals must have and maintain specialized skill sets to provide and advise individuals on current and future jobs, and career pathways opportunities. They must understand business needs, skills and educational requirements to advise individuals. Career Navigation professionals must understand the skill sets of the individual and assist them in understanding job opportunities and trainings that may be required to succeed. What are you doing to ensure that your staff are receiving the most up to date workforce training? To determine the training needs of your workforce staff it is best to create a value stream mapping and perform a skill gap analysis.

Creating Career Pathways

Career Pathways can help WDBs, educators, jobseekers, youth, and employers identify career options in the local area and the knowledge and skill requirements that individuals need for their careers. Career Pathways also help identify skill sets and job functions or roles needed across job families. Job families are groups of occupations that have related knowledge requirements, skill sets and abilities. Understanding pathways within job families allows jobseekers to plan effectively for training and advancement within their desired industry. Additionally, career pathways must align with the needs of local employers and are developed, implemented, and maintained in partnership with secondary and postsecondary education providers and employers. For more information on developing career pathways click here.

WDBs need to be committed to working with educators, industries and economic development partners to develop a shared vision and strategy to support sector-based Career Pathways for young adults and adults.

Below are ideal strategies that WDBs can use to support the development of Career Pathways:

  • Work with employers to determine their hiring needs
  • Work with educators to design training programs that meet the hiring needs of employers
  • Utilize labor market data (local, state and national)
  • Measure the success of existing training programs and outcomes
  • Measure employee and earnings outcomes
  • Promote seamless progress from one education step to another
  • Eliminate barriers to accessing training
  • Provide guidance through career coaching
  • Create and supporting partnerships between workforce development, education, labor and non-profit organizations
  • Support industry partnerships

Optimizing the Career One-Stop

The role of the One-Stop Operator involves ensuring that all AJC partners are implementing the WDB’s strategic vision. In order to do this the vision must be shared with all partners. As identified in WIOA legislation, the One-Stop Operator should be the entity best suited to implementing this vision.

What is the role of a One-Stop Operator? The operator is charged with coordinating the service delivery among partner agencies in One-Stop Centers. Duties include but are not limited to:

  • Managing daily operations in coordination with the WIOA fiscal agent for the lease, utilities and other activities to support the center
  • Managing partner responsibilities defined in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among partners
  • Managing hours of operation
  • Managing services for individuals and businesses
  • Ensuring that basic services are available (orientations, labor market information, resource room)
  • Implementing Local Workforce Development Board policy
  • Adhering to all federal and state regulations and policies
  • Reporting to Local Workforce Development Board on operations, performance and continuous improvement recommendations

Who can be the One-Stop Operator?

  • A public, private, or non-profit organization
  • A consortium, which must include at least three (3) required WIOA partners
  • An institution of higher education
  • A State Wagner-Peyser Employment Agency
  • A community based, non-profit organization
  • Interested organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce, or a business or labor organization

As mentioned earlier, Local Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) through American Job Centers (AJCs) provide individuals access to the employment, education, training, and support services they need to succeed in the labor market, while simultaneously meeting the needs of employers. Workforce development providers must make the connections to each of the local partners (including government agencies) to ensure all services are accessible within their regions. AJCs need to provide quality customer service and be innovative in service design and delivery. A high-quality AJC should provide services that meet the current and future needs of jobseekers, incumbent workers, employers and individuals with barriers.

Many public and private service providers and educators view workforce development from the perspective of- what is the best path towards sustainable economic security for the individuals? On the other hand, Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) approach workforce development from the perspective of- how can we attract new business and meet the needs of existing employers in order to benefit the economic growth of our region?

Employersfocus on workforce development based on the ability of their workforce to deliver services and/or produce products to remain competitive and profitable. Organized labor promotes training opportunities to meet employers’ needs while upskilling the workforce. This training can often lead to better paying careers for union members.

Community Based Organizations (CBOs) provide services within their communities that address various hardships such as the social and economic barriers which can prevent individuals from obtaining employment . WDBs must build relationships with all of these organizations and ensure that AJCs work with several partners, with the goal of effectively serving jobseekers and employers on an ongoing basis.

While each of these organizations represents a different perspective on workforce development, obtaining the desired outcomes can be challenging. WIOA provides the opportunity to meet these challenges by working together and aligning resources.

Working with Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) as Partners

The local workforce development system is made up of many different partners. Economic Development Organizations (EDOs) are critical to the workforce success of the local regions. EDOs are primarily responsible for marketing the region to new businesses and assist in local business development and relocation. Most EDOs focus on recruitment of large companies currently located in other states. The competition among states is fierce, because each state offers tax incentives and other subsidies that can be in the millions of dollars, to attract large manufacturers and corporate headquarters.

EDOs also work with businesses that are expanding. When a business is expanding, it needs access to space, low-cost capital, and most importantly, a readily available skilled workforce. EDOs assist entrepreneurs with start-ups. These businesses sometimes require access to additional services and are often supported in “accelerators” (organizations that offer a range of support and funding opportunities for startups) and other support services.

EDOs and WDBs play a critical role in advising and meeting the economic and workforce needs of local businesses. Working together in partnership, they can support sector strategies (industry partnerships), attract business leadership, encourage educational enhancement offerings and support the growth of specific industries. Another benefit of their collaboration is the coordination of labor market research, job placement services, enhanced education, trainings and reemployment strategies. WDBs and EDOs can also conduct focus groups with employers by:

Working together enables both WDB and EDO partners to promote the assets of the region, including but not limited to, skilled workforce, educational facilities, housing, transportation and other amenities of the region. Working together through shared strategies and business engagement, both organizations can be more responsive and supportive of business’ needs, while promoting employment opportunities for jobseekers and young adults.

Sharing information with Educators and Community Based Organizations

Local WDBs must be prepared to work with educators and CBOs in reviewing existing training program offerings to determine if they are meeting the needs of employers. They must be prepared to enhance training opportunities by adding new and approved trainings. Local WDBs can work with educators in the design of new training opportunities that enable individuals to obtain industry-recognized credentials. WDBs are responsible for the negotiated performance measures and budgets.

Making these connections to WIOA partners can lead to better services by:

  • Designing new career pathways
  • Meeting the current and future needs of employers
  • Enhancing individual success and advancement
  • Delivering quality career navigation
  • Promoting Sector/Industry Partnerships

Role of the Workforce Development Board

Workforce development boards (WDBs) are critical to successful implementation of WIOA. WIOA legislation requires that each state have a statewide WDB whose members are appointed by the state’s governor. These boards develop statewide policies, certify local workforce development boards, and set performance metrics that local WDBs must implement.

WIOA requires that each state establish local regions that can be defined by counties, population, or regional characteristics and are overseen by a local board. Once certified by the state, local boards play an important role in the region by analyzing regional labor market conditions, gaps in training resources, enactment of federal/state/local policies to support the use of WIOA programming and funding, and oversight of program implementation within their areas.

Local WDBs are key in organizing partnerships between the required WIOA mandated and regional partners involved in workforce development initiatives, programs and projects within their region. WDBs assist in coordinating and leveraging activities across a region to better serve employers, job seekers, and young adults. Local WDBs contract required services such as career-readiness and skills assessments, individual counseling, and career planning to eligible clients through a competitive bidding process in order to meet the needs of employers and job seekers in their region.

Additionally, each local board must manage one comprehensive workforce center (American Job Center), or one-stop center, that serves as a location for WIOA-mandated services to job seekers, workers and employers.