It’s no secret that a having a qualified workforce is a primary consideration for corporations seeking a new location in this globally competitive economy. So why are so many communities falling short and facing a skills gap?
The fact is that balancing the supply of qualified workers with the demands of business is a complex task. When done correctly, though, workforce development efforts build local capacity, support job creation and retention and help to foster innovative industry clusters. Bridging the chasm between businesses and training providers is the key to success and this is where local economic development organizations (EDOs) are playing an increasingly pivotal role.
EDOs excel at brokering strategic collaborations among business and educators, serving as the critical link to developing tailored training and certification programs to supply local industries with a ready-to-go workforce. Due to their familiarity with state and federal agencies, EDOs can effectively assist firms in leveraging federal, state and local financial resources available for workforce development. Working with federal agencies from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and many others, as well as state economic development offices and state and local Workforce Investment Boards (WIB), local EDOs assess a firm’s needs and match them to funding sources for training. Whether helping with hiring at a new firm, upgrading the skills of incumbent workers in an established business or developing a pipeline of talent in a particular industry, the development and financing of workforce initiatives can be facilitated through the local EDO.
Local business surveys, long conducted by EDOs to determine short- and long-term corporate demands, have additionally become a vital tool in determining companies’ current and future workforce needs. Such surveying helped the Hudson Valley Technology Development Center (HVTDC) in New York identify business needs and procure federal, state and local workforce funds to underwrite the costs for a wide variety of services ranging from English as a Second Language instruction to training on heavily automated equipment.
These surveys also shed light on any barriers to job placement and retention in the community, enabling EDOs to take action to eliminate those obstacles. This could entail advocating for the expansion of public transportation to improve commuting options or working with community leaders to create or preserve amenities to enhance a region’s attractiveness.
It is not always easy to bring all stakeholders together, but today, collaboration between organizations is on the rise as they seek to boost their community’s competitive edge. In the Charlotte, North Carolina, region, the Competitive Workforce Alliance brings together seven WIBs and the Charlotte Regional Partnership to work with policymakers, educators and the economic development community to ensure a competitive local workforce.
Partnerships between businesses and community colleges are also yielding impressive results. In recent years, EDOs have taken a more active role in working directly with educational institutions – from community colleges to universities to vocational schools – to develop and implement programs to meet industry demands. In Tennessee, the Memphis Bioworks Foundation is working with local high schools to create educational and outreach programs that directly address the needs of the region’s bioscience companies. The foundation launched the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE), a charter school to help get high school students on track for the coveted STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professions.
While every company’s demands are different, EDOs can serve as the linchpin to balancing those needs within a community. As successful collaborations take hold, more partnerships between EDOs, businesses and workforce development agencies are forming. Reaching out to the local EDO is the best way to determine how to make the workforce development system work for you.