By Jim Damicis, Senior Vice President & Mara Klaunig, MPA, Senior Research Analyst, Camoin Associates
Across the country and within all industries, workforce development is a top issue for business development, expansion, and attraction.
Because of its importance, states, regions, and other localities are taking a workforce and talent-based approach to business expansion and attraction. Additionally, business and industry alliances and collaboratives are often taking the lead on industry-specific talent and workforce development and attraction initiatives.
When combined, these recent approaches help create understanding and provide the talent and workforce pipeline that businesses and industries need to grow while also providing opportunities for workers and job seekers to enter emerging occupations and careers. This is all in response to significant and rapid changes altering the workforce landscape, including demographics, response to COVID-19, changing technology, remote work, and more.
Getting it Done
The following examples and associated best practices demonstrate how this shifting focus towards workforce development ̶ particularly via industry-driven initiatives and skills-based approaches ̶ is showing up across the U.S.
New Orleans Works (NOW) is a collaborative of private foundations and public workforce systems that pool funding to provide low-skilled adults advancement opportunities while meeting employers’ workforce needs in high-growth, high-turnover industry sectors.
Medical Assistant Now (MA NOW) is an example of one of the industry partnerships developed based on this model. The New Orleans-based partnership is between Ochsner Health System (the largest healthcare employer in New Orleans), Delgado Community College, Providence Community Housing, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation. It provides education, on-the-job training, and wraparound support services enabling low-income, low-skilled workers (many of whom were previously in low-wage healthcare positions) to become Medical Assistants.
The four-month program has high completion and job placement/retention rates and has led to an increase in wages for all Medical Assistants within the Ochsner Health System.
The health system’s chief human resources officer speaks highly of the program, saying “We welcome these cross-trained Medical Assistants into our system… They’re trained in technology and in making patients feel at ease, which are two highly important skills for Medical Assistants.”
The program’s emphasis on both hard and soft skills and the removal of barriers to participation ̶ including full tuition, transportation, childcare, and rental assistance ̶ are viewed as particularly crucial for its success.
Seeing the importance of business and industry-driven workforce initiatives, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity launched the Sector Strategies Employer-Led Collaborative in early 2023, a $4.6 million grant program to fund industry- and employer-led workforce partnerships.
The grants will support programs that include talent recruitment, customized training programs, and support services to enable participation in the labor force, such as transportation and childcare.
State Office of Employment and Training Director Stephanie Beckhorn states “The employer-led collaborative approach has demonstrated effectiveness in addressing issues that matter most to our state’s employers. And while it supports the growth of our state’s businesses, it also creates new and better career opportunities for Michigan workers.”
North Texas’ Pathways to Work is a workforce development partnership between the Dallas United Way and 55 community organizations, supported by JPMorgan Chase.
The initiative connects employers and training providers to provide training and industry-recognized credentials in healthcare, IT, construction, advanced manufacturing, transportation, and business and finance. The initiative also provides work-readiness services, including adult education, GED classes, career coaching, digital literacy, work-based learning, transportation, and childcare.
Workforce equity is central to this initiative, and the initiative strives to diversify talent pools, promote inclusion in hiring, improve job quality, and increase the number of young adults earning living wages. In 2022, the initiative served over 20,000 participants and resulted in over 1,600 certifications and over 4,000 job placements.
The Calumet Manufacturing Industry Sector Partnership (CMISP) is an employer-led sector partnership between economic development, workforce development, training providers, and industry associations in the South Chicago region.
CMISP works to promote industry awareness through college and career fairs and company tours for educators, students, and parents, including an annual robotics competition, “Taste of Manufacturing” tour, and Manufacturing Month events. It also tracks the jobs and skills most in demand by employers, which are then used to ensure training curriculum aligns with the foundational skills needed for manufacturing.
Other workforce development resources include reimbursement for on-the-job training, funds to support apprenticeships, hiring events and prescreening, and an eight-week paid internship program for young adults to gain job readiness skills, basic industry skills, and certifications in forklift operation and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
Georgia’s Quick Start program provides customized job training at no cost to companies in advanced manufacturing, automotive, aviation, bioscience/healthcare, food manufacturing, distribution, and business operations.
Quick Start works directly with an employer to assess the specific skillsets and qualifications it needs for new candidates and incumbent workers then develops training programs customized to that company’s processes. It also provides pre-employment assessments of candidates based on company criteria and leadership and professional development training.
Hyundai Mobis said: “Our team members remember Quick Start training as their ‘ah-ha’ moment — when they began to understand the automotive cycle. I want all of our employees to get Quick Start training because they train on the same equipment and the same layout as we have here, and after Quick Start training, they can work like a person with experience.”
Maryland funds a comprehensive and robust statewide initiative known as Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) Maryland.
This program provides grants to formal sector partnerships focused on collaboration among industry, education, community services organizations, and the workforce system. Services within the initiatives include the creation of formal career paths, reducing barriers to employment through services such as transportation and childcare, and job readiness training.
The effort is obtaining real results. To date, 65 total partnerships across multiple industries have been funded. Based on a 2022 evaluation, over 2,000 participants obtained a credential and nearly 2,500 participants were employed at the conclusion of the training.
Greater Akron’s ConxusNEO is a “talent intermediary” working with over 200 employers, education providers, and community and government organizations to develop career pathways in the manufacturing, IT, and healthcare sectors. It works to align and diversify the talent supply chain, upskill and place workers in quality jobs, and remove barriers to work.
ConxusNEO promotes industry awareness by promoting the in-demand jobs and skills needed, building the K-12 career tech pipeline, and providing career exploration opportunities. It also hosts an annual ALIGN conference for employers and their partners to collaborate on innovative solutions to shared challenges.
IGNITE IT is an example of a successful partnership between ConxusNEO, Spectrum, Akron Urban League, and We Can Code It. This 10-week certification program ̶ which includes in-person, lab-based, and independent learning and mentorship and career coaching ̶ prepares workers for entry-level computer help desk support positions at Spectrum.
The program uses the Urban League’s connections in the community to ensure a diverse talent pipeline, which is of particular importance to Spectrum’s goal of having a workforce that represents the communities it serves.
These examples demonstrate that workforce is no longer a separate practice but rather a critical component of business attraction, retention, and expansion efforts. To be successful, workforce initiatives must be industry-led and include holistic collaboration between the entire ecosystem of training, education, and service providers.
Other common themes from these examples include a focus on inclusivity as a means of expanding and diversifying the labor pool and the importance of communicating both the opportunities available and the evolution of the professional trades as they grow increasingly reliant on emerging technologies, digital competency, and a combination of technical and soft skills.
While there are different approaches to incorporating workforce initiatives into economic development, the article in this edition, “Talent-Based Target Industries: How to Identify and Grow Targeted Industries Through Workforce Analytics,” provides another case study using the Akron, Ohio, region to demonstrate how data and analysis can be used to support these initiatives. This case provides an example of how shifting to a workforce-first approach to target industries can help communities, regions, states, or industry groups keep on the cutting edge of business development.