What’s the HOPE for a de-stabilized labor market?

As the economy transitions to regain its foothold, a continuous flow of highly-skilled and well-developed careerists must be prepared to enter or re-enter the workforce. Like the Great Recession of 2007- 2010, COVID-19 presented a massive economic downturn that threatened the labor market. It posed a new reality for the future of work, forcing many Americans to consider new career opportunities and access to e-learning communities. The movement toward digital learning is more reality like never before.

Our social norm has been decimated, and the “new norm” is at the cusp of its formation. A careful watch of our nation’s continued response to COVID-19 amid the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommendations will yield the standard social practices for what will soon be accepted as the official new norm. While many speculations are looming on social media platforms for how and why COVID-19 has come to be, we need not exhaust our intensive creativity on the realities imposed upon all humanity. The harsh imposition is that this pandemic has brought irreversible gloom to families across the globe, but in this devastation, there is HOPE. And maybe a “rise-and-shine” from this experience is a transformative season of change for all.

In 2020, more than 26.5 million Americans were reported as unemployed, the workforce eco-system has a tremendous responsibility to engage the labor-force.

So, what’s the HOPE for a de-stabilized labor market? Recall the 2007-2010 economic downturn known as The Great Recession. The downturn tremendously affected the stability of the labor force as 8.8 million Americans lost their jobs, creating a new norm for access to education opportunities (i.e., microredentialing, hybrid, traditional, and online) and high-demand careers. While the effects of the Great Recession pale compared to those of COVID-19, the most significant transition was the increase of mal-employed persons. Mal-employment is a sub-set of under-employment, a concept made a reality by the recession. It is defined as persons with advanced college degrees who are over-skilled working in underpaid positions. At the onset, mal-employment was determined to be:

  • persons who possess more education and a higher level of skills
  • persons who were involuntarily employed in a job that was not related to their area of study
  • persons who were involuntarily employed in a part-time position
  • persons who earned substantially less than their previous job or earned less than the market salary for the area of study

(Read the article by U.S. Department of Labor, Rising Mal-Employment and the Great Recession)

The transitions in the labor force led people to journey to new career pathways within the industry they were mal-employed–a commonality during the great recession igniting “upskilling” and online education. Well, our present state of the workforce mimics much the same…

There are more than 26.5 million Americans presently unemployed, the workforce ecosystem has a tremendous responsibility to engage the labor force. It hasn’t come as a surprise, but it certainly comes with challenges and lessons from the Great Recession. The lessons revealed that most of the education attained for upskilling was accessed as part-time enrollments by working-class citizens. Education was obtained from either public 2-year colleges or private for-profit institutions (23.9% and 29.1% respectively of total distance/online learning enrollments). These facts are further validated by comparing the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) historical data on employment and online education participation rates.table1

During the Great Recession of 2007-2010, the U.S. Department of Education reported an increase in the number and percentage of individuals enrolled in distance learning or online education programs compared to the prior reported years; See Table 1. The increase in distance learning and online education enrollments directly correlated with the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2009 report on Mal-Employment Rates disseminated by industry type/major field of study; See Chart 1. That’s an interesting fact.Chart1

The point is that the impacts of COVID-19 have toppled labor-market stability. Workforce regions will need more than a rapid response initiative to re-employ the 26.5 million Americans who experienced a job loss. The charge to re-employ is insurmountable. Now more than ever, access to quality online and hybrid education opportunities through leading education entities will be at the forefront of re-employment operations, along with transitioning the sectors of the workplace to the virtual space. 

Alas, there is HOPE! But keep in mind that mal-employment will persist just as with the Great Recession. And yet again, our point-of-access for upskilling into high-demand careers will evolve due to the increase in career professionals seeking engaging opportunities to complete single-course, short-certificate, or accelerated bachelor’s degree programs. Simply put, HOPE is unlimited global access to education and career skills development which invests in ample career opportunities.

[A pause as I ponder that notion.]

…reminds me of “Education for the Masses,” a concept established from the labor market transformations experienced at the start of the 1900s. (Read resources by Goldin & Katz, 2008). Eureka! I guess it’s true… History does have an interesting way of repeating itself…

Rise-and-Shine! A change in our experiences will ultimately change our attitudes and behaviors. The unexpected changes will yield a different and transformative result for the workforce ecosystem (Read Change the Culture Change the Game, Connors & Smith, 1999/2011). We have work to do, but it’s not without compassion for the greater good of humanity.

Fortified Learning Solutions. We create sustainable learning strategies at the precipice of workforce engagement.

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

The Benefit of Career Exploration Programs in Middle School to Ignite Career Interests.

I recently had the opportunity to design a career exploration learning strategy for middle school students. The model is all-encompassing of career development and is adapted to the cognitive function of middle school students.

Some might think Middle School is too early to begin practical career training, as this is the stage in which students connect prior knowledge to more theoretical and complex ideas. It’s assumed that because students are at this stage of learning, the addition of new concepts like career development might be slightly advanced. In fact, the cognitive functionality of middle school students is ideal for introducing career exploration since they begin developing critical thinking, problem-solving and negotiation skills, and other complex thought processes during the middle school years. Additionally, career exploration programs can be largely successful at engaging students’ educational interests. Think about it…..middle school is when students experience lifestyle changes such as puberty and self-identity. As a result, their level of engagement in educational studies is often deflated. Proactively adopting these programs can reignite educational interests and inspire their ideas about future careers.

So what about the benefit of a career exploration program for middle school students, and how can it ignite career interests?

Simply put, career exploration is just that. An advantageous program introduces students to various career options and a program that is not void of simulated activities, project-based learning strategies, and real-world scenarios and experiences. During the middle school years, students can identify with a suitable career, establish attainable goals, and create actionable steps to accomplish them. When career exploration programs are in place, students improve their ability to visualize their future realities. In the truest sense, the end goal of career exploration is to be used as a building block for planning a well-educated workforce.

The industries of focus within a career exploration program should be well aligned with the State’s targeted areas for workforce development, creating an avenue for real-world exposure that is immediately accessible.

Keep in mind that not all students will finish K-12 and proceed to the workforce, just like not all students will finish K-12 and proceed to college, the armed forces, or family. Students will do one or the other or several, and given the choice, they must be well prepared for sustainable career options.

The thought is how to create a well-educated workforce that ultimately bolsters economic development and the promise of upward social mobility for citizens.

“Fortifying the workforce through access to career, employee training & development, and improving business processes.” What’s your missing piece?

written by Chanel Fort, The Learning Strategist

#fortifytheworkforce              #themissingpiece

Lead Organizational Change, or Change the Way you Lead.

One of my favorite topics has always been Leadership Development. I’m an avid reader of Self-Help & Relationships books. I seem to gravitate to this section in any bookstore because it resonates with my natural ability to connect with people and build valuable relationships. In fact, my favorite author is John Maxwell; which is no surprise for someone who enjoys lessons on leadership.

In my journey of coaching leadership and building well-working teams, I have discovered that leaders don’t often realize that their leadership style impacts the team’s level of development. It’s true!

If you are seeking change within your organization, but can’t seem to build momentum or establish positive morale while undergoing the change, have you thought for just a moment that it may be a result of your leadership style?

Now leadership styles vary. It truly depends on the approach of leadership you preferably subscribe to. My favorite is Situational Leadership because it clearly defines the role of a leader to impact the development level of team members. Keep in mind that no leadership style is perfect. Also, note that neither style is more or less effective than another. The reality is, your ability to get desired results from the team depend upon the outward expression of your leadership style.

What does this mean?…..Have you heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it!” I have. In fact, I heard it more often than not in my early years of management. At that time, I was developing as a leader and thought my title and position with the company defined me as a leader. But it doesn’t……Leadership is a behavior. Leadership is NOT a position, title, tenure with the company, or perfection. But because I thought in this manner at that time, I exhibited strong directive leadership which was ineffective. Of course, I eventually learned that in order to get the team to achieve desired results, I had to change the outward expression of my leadership style by adding balance to become more supportive toward team members. This ultimately resulted in a change to the way I led teams – change in leadership style, and it resulted in a change in the development level of the team.

It will always be true that change for the team is uncomfortable. This is also true of the simplest things. For example, when you go to the movies you choose what’s considered to be the best seat in the house. Well, let’s say the theater is now crowded and a group of four come in late. This group notices three seats to your left and one seat to your right. You might immediately think….”don’t ask me to move over!” Why? Because that requires you to change by giving up “your seat” (you have somehow now taken ownership of….), and move to the next one. You might even say to yourself, “they should have arrived on time!” Right? or Wrong?……. Change is uncomfortable.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to create an environment that encourages change which typically results in forwarding progression of the organization. Don’t make it more challenging for the team by choosing to not self-check and ask yourself, “is the outward expression of my leadership style impairing my team from achieving desired results?” You want the results, so go after them. Lead the organization to change, or change the way you lead and the results will follow.

Learn about The Missing Piece to the Puzzle™ and help your organization deliver results that lead to economic achievement.

written by Chanel L. Fort, The Learning Strategist