Current Trends in Workforce Development: Recognizing the Collaborative Approach to Build a Stronger Economy.

As state and local governments continue to discuss Workforce Development, it almost seems cliché` that it’s become a major thread in conversations about economic development. But truly, how can state and city leaders discuss economic development without adding insightful viewpoints for ways to improve the workforce. In fact, a target for economic development is job creation and improved quality and access to workforce training. It’s this target that engages states in the workforce development movement because to them it means growth and survivability for their economy. Simply stated, workforce development intends to create access to career, grow stronger economies, and establish a well-trained and educated workforce. Now, of course, each state has established unique workforce initiatives, but amid the differences between these initiatives, one can easily spot the trends.

So, what are the current trends in Workforce Development?

TREND #1: Infusion of Career & Technical Education Programs (CTE) into the K-12 education system.

Although Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs have been around since the late 1800s to early 1900s, there has been a resurgence of its existence over the past 100 years. The truth is, CTE began because school superintendents, deans, and other educators felt the education system during the late 1800s to early 1900s were boring and out of touch with reality. In fact, during that time studies showed there was a need for vocational training due to a lack of skilled workers to meet job demands. The result of these concerns spawned The Smith Hughes Act which served as the first issue of federal funds to permit vocational education & training in the school system; current funding for vocational education & training is received through the Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education Act.

But that’s just it!…… Education should be relevant to reality. For this reason, many school systems have adopted Career & Technical Education Programs through the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE). Recently, Phi Delta Kappa International released its Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. While the poll was a broad survey of education issues, it was intentional to present data related to career and technical education. The results concluded that:

  • 82% of respondents believe public high schools should offer job or career skills classes
  • > 50% of respondents agreed that local schools should offer more CTE classes
  • 86% of respondents believe students should have access to a certificate or licensing programs in local schools

“It is gratifying to see the public recognize the critical role CTE has to play in both a students’ academic and career success;” said LeAnn Wilson, ACTE Executive Director.

The demand for CTE programs in recent years is a result of individuals realizing the greater expense to attend a 4-year college or university, and the business community balancing a soft job market. While I AM a fan of 4-year colleges and universities as an avenue to pursue professional degrees, I also relate well with the many graduates who have obtained professional degrees but are burdened with the agony of “student loan debt”. For that reason, I am quite receptive to providing an opportunity for high school students to learn a job skill, obtain an industry certification, and pursue a high-demand career.

TREND #2: Community supported workforce training programs.

These types of programs come in several forms. What’s most common is Vocational Schools and Apprenticeship Training opportunities. Keep in mind that many are private entities, but several states have developed community-supported workforce training programs that rely on local businesses to sustain the effort. For example, Rebuilding Together NYC. Their mission is to preserve affordable housing and build sustainable communities. Through its Workforce Training Program, experts from the construction industry deliver a comprehensive 7-week pre-apprenticeship program that provides construction training, professional development, and industry certifications that lead residents to gain permanent employment and earn a living wage. The efforts of Rebuilding Together NYC have helped hundreds of families, and have produced at least 57 workforce graduates and counting. Rebuilding Together NYC is also involved in national disaster relief efforts.

YouTube Video: Rebuilding Together NYC: National Rebuilding Day

Rebuilding Together NYC

While it does seem that vocational education is the same as apprenticeship training, they are quite different. However, as we continue to progress in the use of vocational and apprenticeship training as a resource for workforce development, these forms of training programs have become more and more similar. Simply stated, vocational education is a course or a series of courses that lead to an industry credential. Whereas, an apprenticeship is a work performed under a master craftsman with intent to learn the trade, and obtain an industry credential. The deep similarity between the two is the addition of classroom instruction as a component of apprenticeship programs. For additional clarity, Career & Technical Education (CTE) is the new terminology for vocational education.

Overall, the value of vocational education (known as CTE) and apprenticeship training programs is their capacity to lead individuals to attain a well-rounded perspective of career. These programs are also valued as they align well with postsecondary education as the pathway to a professional degree, they are valued as a resource to establish a meaningful middle-class, and as a platform to develop 21st-century job skills needed for all industry settings.

TREND #3: State and Local Government Task Force

But of course! Workforce development initiatives cannot be carried out by a single entity. There are so many moving parts involved in workforce development. These moving parts include ideas to build a stronger economy, plans to educate the existing workforce, ideas to establish pathways to career, and opportunities that create new jobs; a designated Task Force is warranted. It’s about bringing all pertinent entities together to discuss the culture of the workforce. It takes a village!

A designated Task Force lends opportunity for people, business, government, and education entities to come together and establish a shared viewpoint around the culture of a region’s workforce; much like the Texas Workforce Development Boards. With a state as large as Texas, there are 28 boards in total. These boards serve to develop local plans for the use of funds provided by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), they serve to offer oversight to the states Workforce Solutions offices, and they serve to coordinate activities that involve economic development and the business community. Board members for each region include representatives from business and industry, community-based organizations, public assistance, organized labor, education entities, and economic development agencies.


A well-constructed Task Force is diverse and inclusive of varied business and industry leaders. Particularly business and industry for high-demand careers within each region. In other words, a well-constructed task force will consider the end-user; job seekers and employers alike (the buyer and the seller).

So, what is the value of the Task Force? On the surface it’s a voice for the job market, it’s a catalyst for a change in workforce culture, it lends an opportunity to lead job seekers to career, and it’s the direct link to skills training for new and established businesses.

TREND #4: Collaborations between the business community, non-profit organizations, and local government.

Tying it all together involves meaningful cross-industry collaborations. Just as a well-constructed Task Force requires involvement from varied government and business entities, so do collaborations. The charge is to “think outside the box” and beyond traditional boundaries of a single industry. For example, Reach Out & Read is an organization that ties reading literacy with health & wellness; two separate industries that work in synergy to promote literacy and school readiness. This non-profit organization recognized its capacity to impact early childhood development by fostering language-rich interactions between children and their parents that stimulate brain development. The impact is, children’s language development is improved by 3 to 6 months. The result of meaningful cross-industry collaborations!

As it relates to workforce development, these collaborations are seen through private-public partnerships like Atlanta Career Rise; a collaboration that builds partnerships to meet the needs of the business community to close the skills gap, advance careers, and heighten financial stability. Atlanta Career Rise is a product of the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s High Demand Career Initiative (HDCI). It is funded through a grant from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and local investors, and it is managed by the United Way of Greater Atlanta. This collaboration includes state government, federal funding and local investors, non-profit, and the business community. Since its development, the impact of Atlanta Career Rise proudly boasts:

  • 309 individuals enrolled in training to date
  • 431 training credentials earned
  • $2.15 million in new annual earnings for clients to date
  • $64.7 million in new and increased wages to be earned by clients over the next 30 years

There’s no wonder Georgia is home to the nation’s #1 Workforce Training Program, and the leader in -workforce, global access, and infrastructure. Again, the result of meaningful cross-industry collaborations!

So, what’s the value of recognizing the current trends in Workforce Development?

Identifying the trends in workforce development help state leaders to benchmark their initiatives against comparative states. Trends lead to change and change leads to improved results!

If the target is ultimately economic development, the strength for this development comes by way of a well-trained and educated workforce. Which is why state and local governments are continuing to discuss workforce development as a major thread in conversations about the economy. So truly we can’t set aside those insightful viewpoints on job creation and improved quality and access to workforce training because the quality of the workforce is a determinant of the growth and survivability of the economy.

“Fortifying the workforce through access to career, employee training & development, and improving business processes”

written by Chanel L. Fort, M.S., The Learning Strategist

#fortifytheworkforce              #themissingpiece

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