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 significant thread in conversations about economic development. But honestly, how can state and city leaders discuss economic development without adding insightful viewpoints for ways to improve the workforce? In fact, economic development targets job creation and improved quality and access to workforce training. This target engages states in the workforce development movement because it means growth and survivability for local economies. Simply stated, workforce development intends to create access to careers, strengthen local economies, and establish a well-trained and educated workforce. 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, there has been a resurgence in their 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 was boring and out of touch with reality. In fact, during that time, the labor force presented 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 industry norms and technological innovations. 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 surveyed broader education issues, it specifically highlighted career and technical education data. 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 in 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 more significant expense of attending 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 a pathway to pursue professional and terminal degrees, I also relate well with the many graduates who have obtained professional or terminal 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 credential, and pursue a high-demand career.

TREND #2: Community-supported Workforce Training Programs.

Community-supported workforce training programs come in several forms. What’s most common are 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 their efforts. For example, Rebuilding Together NYC. Its 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 livable 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 using vocational and apprenticeship training as a resource for workforce development, these 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. An apprenticeship is a work performed under a master craftsman intending to learn the trade and obtain an industry credential. The profound 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 rhetoric for vocational education.

Overall, the value of vocational education (also known as CTE) and apprenticeship training programs is their capacity to lead individuals towards sustainable careers. These programs also have the added value of aligning with postsecondary education programs resulting in a professional degree; they are a resource for establishing a meaningful middle-class; and a platform for developing the 21st-century job skills needed for the career market.

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 more robust 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, businesses, 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. In a state as large as Texas, there are 28 boards. These boards develop local plans for the use of funds provided by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), offer oversight to the state’s workforce solutions offices, and 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 interdisciplinary business and industry leaders. Particularly business and industry leaders from high-demand industries within each region. In other words, a well-constructed task force will consider the end-user, job seekers, and employers (the buyer and the seller).

So, what is the value of the task force? On the surface, it’s to be a voice for the job market, a catalyst for a change in workforce culture, an opportunity to lead job seekers to careers, and a 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 the traditional boundaries of a single industry. For example, Reach Out & Read is a nonprofit organization that ties reading literacy with health & wellness. These two separate industries work in synergy to promote literacy and school readiness. The 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 that 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 managed by the United Way of Greater Atlanta. This collaboration includes state government, federal funding and local investors, non-profits, 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

No wonder Georgia is home to the nation’s #1 workforce training program and a leader in 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 helps state leaders 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. This is why state and local governments are continuing to discuss workforce development as a significant thread in conversations about the economy. So honestly, 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 and development, and improving business processes.” 

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

#fortifytheworkforce              #themissingpiece

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