CIS’ Tim Waldo Addresses Workforce Development Arena

Reprinted from Waldo’s LinkedIn page.

There were two interesting numbers out of Washington recently: 14 and 43. Fourteen is the number of federal agencies administering workforce development programs…43 programs, to be precise. They are interesting because these numbers speak to the scope and the scale of the work that goes into developing a national workforce.

As you trace these efforts to the local level, you’ll encounter the main players in the workforce development arena. In addition to the government, there are philanthropists, educators, service providers (aka; intermediaries) and of course the two main players – employers and the individuals who make up the workforce.

The philanthropists are the think tanks and organizations that do research to support the other players with studies and data, and in some cases funding. There are dozens if not hundreds of these nationally.

Here at home, Tennessee has Workforce 360° Partners. This includes the state departments of Economic and Community Development, Labor and Workforce Development, Education, Human Resources, The Higher Education Commission, all the four-year universities, and all the colleges (both community and technical). Workforce development actually begins in K through 12, so all the high schools are a part of the system too.

The intermediaries across Tennessee consist of likely hundreds of nonprofit organizations and non-government organizations (NGOs) that deliver services to specific audiences. Unfortunately, they are not well tracked so the exact number is unknown. As an example, in Knoxville, in 2015 23 nonprofit agencies existed and administered 40 workforce development programs; many of them unaware of the existence of the other programs. Tennessee also has dozens of trade associations and regional commissions, and 71 chambers of commerce across the state; most with some focus on workforce development.

By the title alone you can tell how complex this is: workforce – every person who could be working, should be working and wants to be working. This captures all ages, genders, levels of education and experience, etc…a lot of people.

Then there’s development – developing specific skills (both hard and soft), developing leaders, developing strategies for growing a workforce, developing recruiting and retention plans, developing policies that promote and protect the workforce, and more.

It is not clear that the immensity of the workforce development universe is fully understood and appreciated; even by those of us directly involved. It is obvious that many passionate, talented people are engaged in the efforts to build and maintain a workforce. However, it is such a complex, multifaceted, ever-changing endeavor that it is difficult to continually grasp all that is involved in this work.

Do we need a system that features 14 federal agencies running 43 programs? Perhaps not. However, workforce development is one of the most important challenges that our country faces today. Success demands a better system of administration and delivery if we are to adapt to the changes that are already upon us.

The challenges faced by workforce development practitioners are just as numerous and complex as the system itself. Many states have launched some very effective and innovative initiatives to address these challenges. However, we still struggle with systems that are a patchwork; disconnected and inefficient. To have a world class workforce, both now and in the future, we’ll need a world class development approach that interconnects, communicates exceptionally well and is responsive to the two most important players in the workforce development equation – the employer and the talented workers they need.

As we look for more development options and ideas to attract and retain workers, we should not ignore the opportunity to improve the workforce development delivery system as a whole. Many good ideas have been proposed. Among them: a shared database of participants, programs and opportunities; improved communications among the players; fewer redundancies and more efficient allocation of resources and making the system more visible and accessible to participants and employers. The true task is in how to implement and sustain these ideas and others.