Optimizing the Local Plan for Community Engagement and Regional Development

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The only constant in today’s workforce development environment is change. Dynamic market and technological forces are transforming industries, millions have left the workforce and post-secondary education, and cross-state and urban-to-rural migrations continue to either bring new talent into communities or drain it from others.

Sitting at the center of what can be a host of new opportunities are the state and local workforce systems…if they’re ready. Thanks to the timing for updating their workforce plans, it’s the perfect time for boards to plan for these changes.

The planning process can be viewed in two ways: nothing more than a box on a compliance checklist or an opportunity to move beyond compliance to impact by engaging partners, building collaborative strategic plans, and understanding the local labor market in deeper, more innovative, and more practical ways.

Truly building “ecosystems of opportunity” at the state and local level begins by engaging those outside the required partners of the system – reverse engineering the talent pipelines states and communities need.

Two of the standard elements of every Local Plan are an analysis of local economic conditions and an evaluation of the system’s capacity to deliver services. Local Plans will also lay out strategies and tactics for working with the board’s one-stop operator and four core partners, as well as service providers, elected officials, and other stakeholders.

A well-rounded Labor Market Analysis is the first step…a representation of current conditions in the market: industries, occupations, education, and economic impacts. But to build a four-year plan based just on the current data is to only understand half the story. How well a workforce system understands the “rest of the story” is what makes or breaks the success of the plan and its implementation.

Stakeholder groups that hold that story include:

  • Local economic developers in the public and private sectors have a lens on not just what businesses and industries are growing now, they also track the trends in what’s coming. They are perfectly positioned to market existing, quantifiable talent pipelines to attract new, higher wage, higher skilled jobs to their communities and states, but with the rapid transition to Industry 4.0 and Artificial Intelligence, they also get an ear full about the skills and credentials site selectors and others are looking for on behalf of their clients.
  • Chambers of commerce are in constant conversation with existing employers on workforce needs, and frequently, those are challenging conversations. Employers have been dissatisfied with prospective talent for years, but who has taken the time to understand and respond to their complaints as opportunities, rather than just challenges? How has the workforce system responded at the caseworker level to better equip them with information that guides the customer sitting across the desk from them? Chambers are critical employer connectors, based on the trusted relationships they have with their membership.
  • Industry Associations can be either partners with the workforce system or competitors…sometimes both. When an industry’s employers identify a workforce need that’s not being met, these groups are trusted by their members to fill the gap with training programs, credentials, or other skill-development approaches that could otherwise have been provided by the workforce system. However, if an association has the prospect for becoming an Eligible Training Provider, the opportunity for stronger partnership with the system creates a win-win situation.
  • Many non-profit organizations have stepped in to provide individuals and families with services and supports related to workforce development. Engaging with these providers may help better understand the barriers faced by potential customers of the workforce system. These organizations may provide programming or resources to help job seekers gain the knowledge or skills needed beyond what WIOA dollars can provide. Their insights are incredibly valuable, especially when serving clients that either didn’t understand the assets of the workforce system or who had approached the system and had negative experiences.

Collectively, these groups represent a wealth of not just knowledge, but assets, resources, and people that can make the workforce system stronger, better, and, in fact, a force for community and state transformation. They present the opportunity to leverage a far larger set of assets then WIOA dollars alone can provide.

Achieving this level of symmetry and synergy requires elevating discussions above the nomenclature of each sector to a common language and finding the paths that provide a “win-win” for all the partners.

To achieve this, many workforce boards turn to a third party that is both separate from the system and yet understands the language and requirements of all the partners to find common ground. Community engagement done well brings the collective wisdom of all players to the table to create not just shared goals, but shared ownership of action. The plan then becomes the roadmap for a community or state collaboration for cultivating new, or reskilling existing, talent. The “ecosystem of opportunity” becomes a real organism driving the community forward.

We recently learned a great deal when we assisted a local workforce board in the development of both a Board Strategic Plan and their WIOA Local Plan. The board’s strategic plan identified priorities for themselves, including four areas for improved collaboration: the K-12 education system, colleges and universities, economic development organizations, and other local workforce boards. These priorities, having been developed in collaboration with system partners, served as an existing framework for a Local Plan process that did not have to start from scratch, but rather was executed as a logical extension of the strategic planning process with which they were already familiar.

Using the planning process to engage these partners will create a far more dynamic plan that positions ALL partners (these and the required partners) as proactive agents of change in the lives the clients they serve – both job seekers and employers.

When the workforce system gains a new set of partners and community champions, local boards have a wide network boosting awareness, engagement, and influence for the local workforce system. Then, the workforce system is poised to take its proper position as a critical driver of local and state economies.

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