In 2011, the 10 county region of Northeast Indiana around Ft. Wayne was the leading region for percentage of year over year job growth. The region’s success in the face of challenging economic conditions wasn’t an accident. It was the result of intentional alignment between its workforce and economic development efforts.
This concept of workforce as an economic development strategy has its grounding in very practical business retention, expansion and attraction goals. Do businesses have the talent they need to succeed in your community?
During a workshop at NLC’s recent Congress of Cities in Boston, Beyond Skills Mismatch: Aligning Workforce and Economic Development, Fred Dedrick, Executive Director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, spoke about his past in the economic development realm and his efforts to attract foreign investment to the state of Pennsylvania.
“Prospects need to know that they will be able to find appropriately skilled labor. The only way to convince them is to have industry leaders in your community affirm the success they’ve had with the local talent pool.”
But what if they can’t…?
As local leaders, you won’t know unless you ask because, as Dedrick poignantly noted, “you can’t use Google to find this information.”
And this takes us back to Northeast Indiana’s story.
In 2009, the workforce development system for the region—managed through the Northeast Indiana Regional Workforce Investment Board —was dismantled and reconstructed to become a “demand driven” system. “
In this system, the customers are businesses and the products are credentials,” noted Kathleen Randolph, President and CEO of the workforce board, during the session.
“This means that anyone trained in the system learns a certified skill or degree that is needed by companies in the region,” added John Sampson, President and CEO of the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership.
In collaboration with Sampson’s regional economy development organization, the workforce system was realigned to the needs of local companies expanding and/or relocating in the region within key growth industries, such as medical devices, transportation logistics and food processing.
Regional partners, including local economic developers, industry leaders, community investors, workforce and educational partners, and elected officials, are all tapped to help find information about talent needs and bring those skills to bear in the region.
Key to Northeast Indiana’s success is understanding industry needs, and this strategy is gaining momentum in communities across the country.
With 15,000 layoffs in the aviation sector since 2009, more anticipated with the impending closing of Boeing, and consistent recruiting of aviation companies from other states, the City of Wichita developed a regional aviation sector strategy for workforce and economic development.
One initiative in the region, the Preparation for Advanced Career Employment System (PACES), seeks to increase the number of high skilled workers. In particular, the initiative is guided by employer driven partnerships that provide a direct value-add to the participating businesses (i.e. incumbent worker training).
The City of Wichita is a funder of PACES, but equally important, is the role of elected officials in providing leadership for the program.
During the NLC workshop, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer identified several ways he supports the alignment of workforce and economic development through PACES:
- Lead planning meetings with industry leaders;
- Attend site visits by outside funders and investors of the program;
- Be a champion and lead by example. The Mayor not only committed project funding but also assigned senior staff to the program leadership team; and
- Leverage partnerships to help pool resources and braid funding from those including local and national philanthropy, community based organizations, and federal government.
In the coming months, NLC will be providing resources for local leaders to help align workforce and economic development in their communities. For more information or to receive this information directly, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.