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New strategies and examples highlight state and regional workforce efforts

June 28, 2018
By: Robert Ksiazkiewicz

As economic development efforts try to keep up with changing demographics, many states, regions, metros, and other local governments face difficulties trying to cultivate, attract and retain a 21st century workforce. Three recent reports look at the strategic steps that states and regions must play to create strong workforce development organizations.  While these reports, from the Urban Institute, the National Skills Coalition (NSC), and the Western Governors’ Association (WGA), look at broad workforce development strategies for public-sector agencies to employ, several states and cities have launched specific efforts to reimagine or strengthen their workforce development efforts.  

In Public Funding for Job Training at the State and Local Level, Urban Institute researchers looked at state and local initiatives in Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington. Within those three states, the report looked at specific efforts in five metro regions — Austin, Boston, Houston, Seattle, and Worcester. While federal programs like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) played an important role in funding job training efforts, the authors contend that investments on the state and local levels more important in creating strong workforce development systems. Based upon their research, the authors made six recommendations for states and localities to create flexible, effective job training programs including:

  • Moving beyond traditional advisory boards and seeking other ways to engage employers to respond to sector-based job training needs;
  • Using dedicated fees as a source of funding for job training;
  • Having many sources of nonfederal revenue to give agencies flexibility in serving harder to-serve participants such as minorities, individuals with disabilities, and rural populations;
  • Braiding and blending funding streams to increase the potential for leveraging and efficiency, and providing greater flexibility when paying for services; and,
  • Managing public funding across the local workforce development system, filling training gaps and reducing duplicative programs and services.

The National Skills Coalition also recently released a set of workforce development recommendations specifically for southern states via a new report: Building a Skilled Workforce for a Stronger Southern Economy, which includes a roadmap that many states may find beneficial in addressing common problems in workforce development. The recommendations focus on establishing job-driven financial aid programs that are available to a wide range of students; forming career pathways with comprehensive supportive services that enable completion; and, creating state data systems that provide accountability on obtaining results from job training programs.

The report also calls for states to create cross-agency “Skills Cabinets.” These cabinets would serve as task agencies to develop and implement state-specific strategies for meeting the postsecondary attainment goals outlined by key stakeholders including industry, local governments, higher education, etc.

A recent report from the WGA echoes the call of the southern report to better align their workforce development with the specific needs of each state in the West. Based upon webinars and meetings across several western states, the report proposes changes and highlights successful efforts already existing in member states. Similar to the other two studies, the report stresses the importance of integrating state efforts and connecting all career pathways (not just four-year degrees) to in-demand careers, as well as improving upskilling for adult workers. The report also highlights the importance of better connecting rural communities to workforce development efforts.

Examples from states and regions

Over the past month, several states and regional governments have announced specific efforts that align with many of the recommendations found throughout the reports that will support workforce development in key tech-based industries including:

  • GO Virginia announced a $200,000 project that will allow Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) to implement a new cybersecurity workforce development program in the Shenandoah Valley to grow high-wage, high-demand cybersecurity jobs.
  • After receiving a federal waiver, Indiana will replace the state’s Workforce Innovation Council with the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet. The waiver addressed concerns by groups including the Indiana Manufacturers Association that such a change in the state’s strategy would cost the state nearly $50 million in federal funds.
  • In Northwest Alabama, the Shoals Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Northwest-Shoals Community college announced its Workforce Readiness Institute for Educators. The institute helps middle and high school STEM teachers, counselors, and school administrators to network with local industry leaders, learn about local career opportunities, and discover how math and science are applied in the workforce.
  • Mississippi State University received an $80,000 grant from the state that will be used to support the teaching of computer coding skills to recent high school graduates.
  • With support from the state, local officials opened the St. Paul Workforce Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. The renovated center has an emphasis on one-on-one counseling, individualized resume help, and other efforts to reduce the amount of time it takes to connect the unemployed to the services they need.
  • Wichita State University’s Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology, WSU Tech, received $500,000 from the Wichita Community Foundation for a pilot program that will help cover the cost of living expenses including housing and transportation for students who reside outside of the Wichita area and require relocation. The goal of the program is to remove some of the barriers (housing and transportation) that keep individuals from receiving training for specific high-wage, high-demand jobs.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to create a “new centralized office” to replace the current system that he contends is fragmented. The new strategy is intended to ensure that workforce development efforts at the local levels are flexible to the needs industry and align with the economic development goals of the state and the individual regions. The new office also will work to provide the public with better program performance measurement and accountability.

Another approach is highlighted in an article from Curbed, where the author highlights several cities and regions that are employing marketing and social media campaigns to attract and retain young professionals. The author contends that such marketing campaigns provide a low-cost way to create sustained, resilient economic growth that is driven by innovation and inclusion, as opposed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on mega-deals like attracting the next Amazon headquarters.