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    Since 2007, the Ohio Workforce Coalition has been bringing together leaders from education and training institutions, economic and workforce development organizations, business and industry, labor, and human service providers. The Coalition promotes public policies that build the skills of adult workers, meet employer skill needs, and strengthen the workforce system to ensure opportunity and prosperity for Ohio families.

FEATURED GUEST POST: Sector Strategies for Ohio’s Workers and Industries

Goal 2 of the Ohio Workforce Coalition’s Public Policy Platform is to Meet Employers Workforce Needs.  Industry “sector strategies” have consistently demonstrated that it is possible to meet the needs of both sides of the labor market.  This post by the National Network of Sector Partners, shares more about sector strategies.

This summer, everyone seemed to be talking about workforce training.  In July, for example, there was a flurry of articles and commentaries about the effectiveness of job training, centered on a July 18 New York Times article entitled, “After Training, Still Scrambling for Employment.”  Although the piece highlighted a few successful, industry-focused job training efforts, its overall critical tone provoked several responses, including the following:

  • David Indiviglio, “Job Training Helps, Just Not With Unemployment,” The Atlantic, July 19, 2010
    Synopsis:  Job training can’t solve unemployment – but it can help workers transition to industries in which there are more jobs, stay focused on rejoining the workforce, and be more productive when they are eventually employed, contributing to overall economic growth.
  • Barbara Kiviat, “Does Job Retraining Work?” Time, July 20, 2010
    Synopsis:  Generic skills training not linked to employer demand is ineffective, but sector-focused training can work, particularly when companies are hiring.  Moreover, such training addresses a structural gap between the skills industry needs and the qualifications of the available workforce – a gap that threatens economic growth.
  • Julian Alssid, “The Road to Tomorrow’s Jobs Is Not Yesterday’s Training,” Huffington Post, July 21, 2010
    Synopsis:  Traditional models of workforce training, which receive most federal funding but provide job-seekers only generic skills, don’t work.  What’s needed is the right kind of training: tied to high-demand occupations, developed in partnership with industry, and providing industry-recognized credentials.

Job-seekers aren’t the only ones who find traditional job training lacking, incidentally.  So do employers, who express difficulty in finding qualified employees even at a time of sky-high unemployment.  Recent articles citing these employer concerns – and suggesting that they pose problems for our economic recovery, include:

  •  Motoko Rich, “Factory Jobs Return, but Employers Find Skills Shortage,” New York Times, July 1, 2010
    Synopsis:  Manufacturers such as Ohio’s Ben Venue Laboratories are adding jobs but having difficulty hiring because they cannot find workers with the skills they need.  As the industry has shifted towards greater automation, higher technical skills are required – skills which existing training programs are not delivering.
  •  Mark Whitehouse, “Some Firms Struggle to Hire Despite High Unemployment,” Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2010
    Synopsis:  Despite large numbers of job-seekers, employers such as Ohio’s Long-Stanton Manufacturing Co. are having difficulty finding workers with the specific skills they need.  This difficulty finding workers not only in manufacturing but also in other areas, such as healthcare, contributes to continued high unemployment and limits the economy’s ability to grow.

A consensus seems to be emerging:  job training remains necessary, perhaps more than ever, but we need to change the way we train workers.  To serve both job-seekers and industries, job training must be specific, not generic, and must prepare workers for actual jobs in key industries experiencing skills shortages.  To that end, it must involve industry in the development of training and provide trainees the supports they need to succeed.

This approach epitomizes sector initiatives – regional, industry-focused workforce and economic development partnerships that improve access to good jobs and/or increase job quality in ways that strengthen an industry’s workforce.  The effectiveness of sector initiatives at connecting low-income people with good jobs was recently demonstrated in a rigorous, random-assignment study conducted by Public/Private Ventures and described in brief here:

  • Ben Gose, “Nonprofit Job-Training Programs Show Promising Results,” Chronicle of Philanthropy, July 20, 2010
    Synopsis:  Unemployed and low-skilled workers – including both men and women, African Americans and Latinos, immigrants, formerly incarcerated people, and young adults – can significantly increase their earnings by participating in job-training programs developed in collaboration with specific industries.  Among other factors, to be successful, these programs develop strong connections to employers and adapt quickly to changing employer needs.

Sector initiatives have also been shown to be effective in meeting employer needs.  In a survey of employers served by Pennsylvania’s Industry Partnerships, for example, more than 84% reported that Industry Partnerships and training had helped them increase their productivity.  There’s even evidence that sector initiatives can work with employers in other ways to support job creation.  Sector initiatives are helping manufacturers re-tool to participate in the wind turbine manufacturing supply chain, helping employers access available tax-credits, financing, and on-the-job-training funds to support new hires, and even helping to create markets, such as for residential energy-efficiency retrofitting.

The National Network of Sector Partners (NNSP) and our parent organization, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, have been at the forefront of the sector movement since the sector approach was first described more than a decade ago.  Recently, NNSP and our partners the NGA Center for Best Practices and the Corporation for a Skilled Workforce wrapped up a four-year project to help states develop and implement their own sector strategies – policy and resource frameworks supporting regional sector initiatives.  More than half of states in the U.S. participated.

States can do a lot to promote and support the development and growth of regional sector initiatives.  Some of the ways states in the project have done so include:

  • providing funding for workforce intermediaries to lead regional planning and to implement initiatives developed through such planning in partnership with industry
  • aligning resources at the state level, such as by promoting the contextualization of adult basic skills into occupational skills or by convening multi-agency workgroups to coordinate planning
  • providing data about regional economies and labor markets, as well as support for regions to use such data in their planning and involvement of employers

Ohio already boasts sector initiatives, such as Cleveland’s WIRE-Net, with national reputations for innovation and effectiveness.  The state also boasts a champion of sector approaches in U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, lead sponsor of the SECTORS Act, which earlier this year passed by unanimous voice vote in the House of Representatives and is now pending in the Senate.  In Cincinnati, the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network also provides philanthropic leadership for adoption of sector approaches.

The Ohio Workforce Coalition has done an admirable job in bringing together interested leaders to focus attention on the critical and inter-related goals of building the skills of adult workers, meeting employer needs, and strengthening the workforce system.  Ohio is well-positioned to build on this leadership and on the lessons learned by other states.  Implementing a state policy framework centered on sector-focused strategies will be a strong next step in the right direction.

Jim Torrens is a Program Manager with the National Network of Sector Partners (NNSP) and Insight Center for Community Economic Development

One Response

  1. Great guest post, @NNSP. It’s always nice to hear from others in the field!

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