January 10, 2008

Building Employer- Responsive Workforce Systems at the State Level: A “How To” Manual

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The public workforce system, as established under the federal Workforce Investment Act, provides its services through local One-Stop Career Centers governed by state and local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs). Research from Workforce Innovation Networks—WINs—has confirmed, as is generally accepted, that employers throughout the nation complain that this system does not sufficiently understand their needs. Often it does not train or refer new job candidates with the skills  employers require. And it too rarely provides the right training to upgrade the skills of incumbent workers to meet the challenges of high technology and global competition. WINs research also has confirmed, in support of other studies, that many employers know little about the public workforce system and seldom utilize it.

From WINs’ perspective, each community’s workforce system as a whole includes not only the One-Stop Centers but also other  components—schools, community-based and faith based organizations, private training providers, and postsecondary institutions, especially community and technical colleges. Seldom do these various institutions comprise a coherent system that adequately meets the needs of local economies, employers, workers, and job seekers. Further, the various components of the workforce development “system” seldom collaborate with agencies charged with economic development—whether to attract firms to a region or to support new and emergent employers within that region.

Efforts to improve this situation often focus on the local level, seeking to upgrade services or enhance collaboration within this array of agencies and institutions. Yet almost all of the components of both workforce and economic development systems are ultimately controlled by state governments. Federal funds generally flow through state agencies that may also draw on state appropriations; state-level governing bodies control policies and practices of most local components of these systems and/or license and regulate their functioning. For example, the federal workforce development system is governed at the state level by state Workforce Investment Boards, appointed by governors, which establish policies and procedures for the local WIBs. Community colleges and economic development agencies are also governed at the state level in almost every case.

If employers want these systems to be easier to navigate and more responsive to their needs, then a major point of intervention is logically at the state level.