Workforce Training in the New Economy

Kerri Tesreau
Veronica Gielazauskas

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There is little question that trends in the New Economy have changed the way business is done, and knowledge and skills now determine one’s competitive edge. Research shows that more and more jobs are requiring higher levels of skill than in the past. Research also shows that the labor force, as a whole, has not adapted to the changes, resulting in low-skilled, low-waged workers. As it stands, businesses lack qualified workers, employees lack the ability to get quality jobs, and governments are faced with the challenges of both.

Best Practices

The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) provides a foundation for state and local workforce development systems, particularly in the creation of One-Stop Centers. The goal of the One-Stop is to provide businesses and job seekers with convenient access to employment, education, training, and information services in a localized area. States at the forefront of workforce development change have gone beyond the framework of the WIA and demonstrated innovative measures in skills assessment and training. From these innovations, several trends in successful workforce transformation have surfaced.

First, strong leadership and active involvement from the governor is necessary for successful workforce transformation. Second, states must create a unified workforce development system. Approaches to unifying systems include program consolidation, program coordination, developing and implementing performance indicators, and the creation of One-Stop Centers. Third, workforce development must be recognized as a core economic growth strategy. States must redefine the roles and focus of key agencies and departments, directing attention to training, retraining, attracting and keeping a qualified workforce.

Adopting a dual customer approach to workforce development is another trend in successful workforce development transformation. Employers and jobseekers must be treated as equal customers in the workforce development system. Many employers have a negative view of state workforce systems. In a "Jobs for the Future" survey of employers actively working with public employment and training systems, fewer than half responded that the local Workforce Investment Boards engaged local employers in meaningful ways and just half said they would recommend their local one-stop center as a valuable resource to other employers. Changing employers’ views and involving them in workforce development systems is necessary for successful workforce systems.

Skills partnerships have arisen as a proven strategy in assisting low-income, low-waged workers in gaining employment and moving into higher level positions. Skills partnerships are industry-based partnerships that combine companies, educational institutions, training programs and interested community parties in an effort to address local and regional problems such as skill or worker shortages and a lack of career advancement opportunities for low-skilled workers. Types of skills partnerships include single-firm, single industry, sector-based and cross-sector partnerships.

Successful skills partnerships require significant planning and consideration. Creation of partnerships should be incremental, starting simply with only one firm, industry or skill level and adding components as the need, resources and interest increases. Three stages in the development of skills partnerships are:

Once in operation, a skills partnership will greatly benefit local, regional and state workforces. Employers will have access to the newly skilled workers. Meanwhile, workers will begin to view low-skill, entry-level positions as entry points into a workforce development system that provides opportunities to increase their skill levels and advance their careers. Over time, a skills partnership will result in a system that is both more responsive to employers and that gives workers clear pathways for advancement through the labor market.

Plan of Action

Missouri’s workforce development system has a variety of programs available for target groups with employment needs including Adult, Dislocated Worker, Veteran and Youth Programs. There are thirty-two career centers in fourteen Workforce Investment Regions in the state to facilitate the workforce development system. Employers have an opportunity to receive tax credits for the hiring of individuals from targeted groups. Additionally, employers have the opportunity for assistance with training programs, primarily aimed at new job creation. The Missouri Rapid Response Team aids businesses and employees faced with closings or layoffs. Missouri has also recently launched Toolbox, a computer-based system to integrate records from state and local partner agencies, in an effort to help streamline services.

Missouri has made strides in workforce development. Missouri met or exceeded many WIA performance measures for Program Year 2000, missing only three of the seventeen criteria. Despite these efforts, Missouri still has room for improvement, ranking in the bottom half of the country in two key indices measured by the Progressive Policy Institute. Further, according to the resources sited for this report, current Missouri practices are not acknowledged as national best practices.

Based on this study’s findings, Missouri should consider the following action plans:

Missouri must redefine workforce development to remain competitive. The economy is changing and Missouri must adapt. A highly educated, trained workforce would allow Missouri to more easily respond to changes. The suggestions and best practices in this report outline ways Missouri could improve its workforce system, thereby improving the quality of its workforce and economic vitality of the state as a whole.


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