By Charles Massie
The future of our region’s economic vitality is directly tied to business productivity, efficiency, flexibility, and profitability. There are many players in improving local economies: economic development agencies, governments, educational systems, and workforce development organizations.
Local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) are a key component. WIBs are closer to their communities than the folks in Washington, D.C., and are where the strategy and policy development around local workforce investments must take place. WIBs are the at the heart of local/regional discussions and give communities the opportunity to address specific needs.
The term “workforce development” covers a wide variety of education and training opportunities provided by multiple agencies, institutions, and organizations, and can relate to workers with a basic education or to those with a doctorate in a highly technical field. This means educational interests from K-12 to community colleges and universities need to be at the community strategy table to understand the educational and skill needs of businesses now and in the future.
As chair of the East Cascades Workforce Investment Board, I appreciate the Administration’s recent focus on workforce development. There is an absolute need to improve American workers’ skills and train a workforce that is capable of moving our economy forward.
Renewed discussion about apprenticeships is promising but will not be the answer for most communities. Workforce development is very different in Lake and Wheeler counties than it is in Multnomah County. Smaller rural counties do not have the critical mass of industries to support traditional apprenticeships; their needs may focus on preparation for municipal and natural resource work, first responders and health care jobs, tourism and small retail work, or business start-up support and training to join the growing e-commerce sector. How will these be addressed in a system primarily focused on expanding apprenticeships? We need to continue a comprehensive approach in workforce development programming, training, education, and individual support to meet broad business and community needs.
Witnessing continued cuts to workforce development programming is distressing because it appears now is the right time to invest and expand programming that will better prepare American workers for modern economic realities and changing business needs. Discussions with businesses in the East Cascades region have revealed that past rules do not always apply. Jobs that exist today may not in five years, and dozens of new job categories will be added in the next five years, and forever thereafter.
I recognize the local close-to-the-ground workforce development system in place can appear inefficient at times, but it’s just a piece of a much bigger strategy for national economic prosperity. A strategy that aims to align specific business and industry needs with education and training using public and private support systems. Simple? No. Necessary? Yes.
Many competing interests exist in budgetary policy development and appropriations. But, it seems most Americans agree creating economic prosperity that leads to job creation is a national priority. Aligning programming for training and educating a large, high value, productive, efficient, and flexibly skilled workforce is a needed focus to address this priority.
The framework for this priority is outlined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), passed with overwhelming, bi-partisan support in July 2014. A key priority of WIOA is addressing the needs of businesses by viewing them as equal customers in the system, and aligning local training to meet their needs. WIOA implementation is just getting under way and needs to continue with all the support that can be mustered.
It is an all-hands-on-deck moment. If communities want to fuel continued economic prosperity, we need to provide opportunities for emerging, dislocated, and undereducated workers, and for those who have not taken advantage of economic growth due to personal or educational barriers.
Local WIBs are the people on the ground rolling up their sleeves and developing the workforce development strategies and support mechanisms required to meet differing community needs.
Continued engagement and support is vital.
Massie is Chair of East Cascades Workforce Investment Board (ECWIB)
If you would like more information about how the East Cascades Workforce Investment Board (ECWIB) can help meet your workforce training needs, please contact Heather Ficht, Executive Director at ECWIB at 541.213.0684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.