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U.S. Workforce Development Programs: Catalysts to Business Success

3 Sep, 2015

By: Jennifer Alten

Workforce training p rograms range from grass-roots efforts run by local charitable organizations to state-wide endeavors. Regardless of origins, these programs are doing more than helping employees gain valuable job skills and coveted jobs. They are also driving business development, which is fueling economic growth throughout the country.

Taney County, Missouri

Taney County, in southwest Missouri, is best known for its entertainment hub, Branson. Beyond the bright lights of this tourist destination, local economic developers are working to build workforce training and opportunities that are available year-round through numerous workforce programs.

“Workforce development is one of the keys to our success,” said Jonas Arjes, EDFP, executive director at the Taney County Partnership. “With our strong seasonal, tourism-driven market economy, our objective is to attract year-round employment opportunities, regardless of industry.”

One way they’re doing this is through the Greater Ozarks Center for Advanced Professional Studies (GOCAPS) pilot program. It immerses high school students in an environment that combines hands-on career experiences and classroom learning. It has two tracts, Engineering/Manufacturing and Medicine/Health Care.

Taney County is working on becoming a Certified Work Ready Communities (CWRC) that utilizes ACT WorkKeys Assessment testing. The region also offers its workforce the Jobs For Life training program, run by a local non-profit to help individuals stuck in cyclical poverty with soft skills and employability.                                                                                                                                                                        

State of Louisiana

The state of Louisiana is a leader in workforce development.

“Since 2010, we’ve ranked as the No. 1 state workforce development program in the nation,” said Jeff Lynn, executive director of workforce development programs at Louisiana Economic Development.

It’s known for LED FastStart, a comprehensive, customized, rapid ramp-up workforce solution offered at no cost to eligible companies. It has trained approximately 25,000 individual workers, delivered more than 317,000 hours of training and served 158 companies. The program collaborates with all of the state’s higher education partners and draws subject-matter experts from those higher education systems to train for specific client needs.

For example, in Monroe, Louisiana, Gardner Denver had decided to mothball a medical pumps and compressors manufacturing site with 70 employees.

“When we showed them what we can do, they decided instead to close a Wisconsin plant. We documented, shipped and helped them reassemble over 30 production lines to Louisiana, where they immediately become more profitable and grew to 300 direct employees and contractors,” said Lynn.

Jefferson County, Illinois

The Jefferson County Development Corporation created the World-Class Workforce (WCW) online training program to address the essential skills gap that concerned employers in southern Illinois.

This free program focuses on the 12 key areas important to employers, such as attendance, appearance, attitude, teamwork and safety. It teaches job candidates the best way to address common workplace challenges and situations.

“WCW is part of an arsenal of options available to employers through the region’s ManTraCon Workforce Development Corp, including customized training and incentives for expansion,” said Jonathan Hallberg, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Corporation.

The programs are working. For example, Continental is the largest private Illinois employer outside of Chicago, with about 3,200 employees. By the end of 2015, it will complete a $129 million expansion to shore up light truck and commercial tire production, bringing total investment over the last six years to about $600 million.

“Our workforce and training partnerships were key factors in their expansion decisions,” said Hallberg.

State of Indiana

While Indiana has strong roots in manufacturing and agriculture, the state’s economy continues to grow and expand into advanced sectors like technology and engineering, aerospace and aviation, life sciences and health care.

“Over the next decade, more than 60 percent of jobs in Indiana will require some form of education beyond high school. That’s why last year, Governor Mike Pence set the goal for at least 60 percent of Indiana’s workforce to have postsecondary knowledge, skills and credentials by 2025. To meet that vision, we’re building on ways the learning and working worlds collaborate.” said Victor Smith, Indiana Secretary of Commerce.                          

To help businesses improve on-the-job training for employees, Indiana provides assistance and tax credits through the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s Skills Enhancement Fund as well as the Department of Workforce Development’s WorkOne.

It’s been a success. This year, Indiana is charting a record pace for economic development efforts with more than 200 companies committed to adding 15,000 new jobs and investing more than $3 billion into their Indiana operations in the coming years.

For example, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Climate Control has been a partner with WorkOne since 2011, utilizing its services for applicant skills assessment testing, online applications and training. To date, approximately 85 individuals have been placed in jobs through their on-the-job training.

State of Iowa

In 2011, Iowa’s state department participated in projects that are conservatively expected to bring in over $11 billion in capital investment in the state. At the same time, the state is at near full employment.

“We have lots of development going on and a low unemployment rate, so there’s a strong need to build a pipeline that builds our workforce. We’re looking closely at our students in K-12 and how we can prepare them for jobs,” said Tina Hoffman, spokesperson at the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

One way the state is doing this is through the Iowa Apprenticeship Program, which combines on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction to increase the worker’s skill. Moving beyond traditional apprenticeships in trade industries, the state is developing new apprenticeships in areas such as information technology, value-added agriculture and even wine-making.

Another program is Home Base Iowa, which focuses on matching military veterans with civilian jobs.

“We have over 900 businesses in Iowa that are pledging to hire over 10,000 transitioning military members/veterans over the next several years,” said Hoffman. “It’s the governor’s initiative to make Iowa as friendly as it can for veterans, while expanding our workforce.”

State of Mississippi

Mississippi knows that access to a superior and productive workforce helps companies succeed in today’s global marketplace.

“Mississippi’s investments in workforce training programs ensure that our businesses are positioned for success, because well-trained workers increase a business’ efficiencies and productivity,” said Marlo Dorsey, chief marketing officer at the Mississippi Development Authority.

The Mississippi Development Authority collaborates with a network of 15 community colleges to provide customized workforce training solutions tailored to each company’s specific needs.

“This partnership enables Mississippi to deliver a ready-made workforce to the state’s corporate partners,” said Dorsey.

The Golden Triangle area in northeast Mississippi was experiencing layoffs in the early 2000s.  East Mississippi Community College decided to focus on preparing the area’s workforce for careers in advanced manufacturing.  The school began administering the ACT WorkKeys Career Readiness Certificate and developed a basic manufacturing skills course that includes covered topics such as computer literacy, safety and blueprint reading. These programs proved to be critical to both existing companies and the recruitment of new advanced manufacturers to the area such as Airbus Helicopters, Aurora Flight Sciences, Yokohama Tire and PACCAR.

Lea County, New Mexico

In the southeast corner of New Mexico, New Mexico Junior College is making a big impact on the workforce in the region’s 120-mile radius. The college’s Training and Outreach Division provides highly customized training and professional development to the area’s businesses at its 16,000 square-foot facility or on site, bringing in consultants who are subject-matter and industry experts for the highest-quality training.

“We don’t offer training just for the sake of doing training,” said Steve Sauceda, customized training consultant at New Mexico Junior College. “Instead, we’re involved in the community to learn what our businesses and organizations need. We’ll put together training as part of their needs.”

One example was creating a customized training for Halliburton that needed specialized Microsoft Excel training at its site.

The college’s workforce programs includes training on everything from Microsoft programs and Adobe Photoshop to conflict management, customer service, OSHA training and CDL training. Its clients include Uranco USA, Conoco Phillips and Chevron.

San Bernardino, California

As the biggest geographic county in the nation with more than 22,000 square miles, San Bernardino County has outsized workforce development programs as well.

“Our most popular service is our On the Job Training (OJT) program,” said Miguel McQueen, deputy director of business services & operations at the San Bernardino County Workforce Investment Board.

OJT selects and presents qualified candidates to businesses looking hire – and then pays 50 percent of the wages for the first 90 days. The employer trains the candidate at the job site.

“Employers love it, not just because of the financial incentive, but because they have a hand in training to give employees the specific skill sets they need,” said McQueen.                        

The county also offers a popular business consulting program that pairs skilled consultants with struggling businesses to focus on process improvement and at no cost to the business. In its five-year history, the program has seen many business, once struggling to stay afloat, now in hiring and growth mode. The program is now being replicated throughout the country.

“It’s had a huge impact on our local economy. Local businesses stay open, continue to hire and the people who work there continue to pay their mortgages and pay taxes,” said McQueen.

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