Workforce programs at community colleges must be tied to local employment needs. That means forging partnerships in the community with employers and workforce development board. Melanie Anderson, executive vice president of the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB), answered our questions about the importance of local workforce development boards and how community colleges can partner.
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Why are local workforce development boards important?
Local workforce development boards are the engine driving growth and prosperity at the community and regional level. Workforce development boards are the intermediary that brings together all the key drivers of individual, local and corporate economic growth. The expertise of thousands of business board members provides insight into the pressures and trends in their respective industries, while professional workforce development board staff contributes deep knowledge on labor market conditions and the community.
Local workforce development boards (WDBs) provide essential services to job seekers, career-changers, young workers and underserved populations. Services include job training, job placement, career counseling, talent search and critical wraparound support services such as childcare and transportation.
WDBs also develop and administer programs that align with local labor market needs and build a relevant talent pipeline for business and industry. This can mean anything from sponsoring an apprenticeship program to developing and opening a childcare center serving a low-income population, which would otherwise be left out of the workforce.
WDBs serve as the glue which binds different groups in a community. Local workforce development boards convene a wide range of local partners to make these initiatives a reality, from businesses and chambers to community groups and labor and of course, education institutions like community colleges.
What effect have the pandemic and supply chain issues had on workforce boards and their priorities?
Workforce development boards are highly responsive to any-and-all economic and social disruptions. The needs of job seekers, local businesses and communities have changed drastically over the last three years. WDBs have had to adapt to that, and quickly. One example is workforce development boards quickly changed to virtual services, including career counseling, training and placement.
Widespread supply chain issues are another example of that, but a very indicative one. We’ve seen many workforce development boards pivot toward initiatives which can address those issues, like apprenticeships and other work-based learning programs in logistics.
NAWB works closely with policymakers in Washington, D.C. What are the association’s legislative priorities?
First, we need to invest in the system. In real dollars, funding has declined steadily and precipitously for two decades. That’s to the detriment of job seekers, employers and regional economies in every part of the country, so it needs to change.
It’s crucial, too, to preserve regional flexibility while ensuring high-quality, equitable outcomes. It’s important that workers and employers are at the table in the public workforce system, and that investments are producing the outputs we want: family-sustaining wages, rewarding careers, inclusive regional growth. This entails comprehensive data collection and assessment, and the local autonomy for boards to develop partnerships and programming that best suits their regions. This can look very different in different places.
Our federal advocacy runs the gamut, down to all the little particulars of a complex law and a complex system, but these are the overarching priorities we emphasize to D.C. policymakers:
- Encourage workforce development that advances all. Workers and employers must be equal partners and valued stakeholders within the publicly funded workforce system. NAWB is committed to creating a skills development ecosystem that promotes the success of businesses and communities by preparing all individuals for sustainable and high-quality employment regardless of background or wider circumstance.
- Promote an adaptable, dynamic and nimble workforce development system. There is no one-size-fits-all workforce development policy that encapsulates the needs of every community, business or person in the United States. NAWB urges Congress to continue revising and advancing substantive workforce development legislation that empowers stakeholders to take strategic actions locally, promotes the alignment and blending of all U.S. workforce development and education policy into a more cohesive system of skills development, and provides a toolbox of customizable solutions for communities.
- Prioritize quality by advancing data-driven decision-making. Good data are the foundation for intelligent policymaking. Unfortunately, the publicly funded workforce development system currently lacks the data systems and related infrastructure necessary to provide policymakers and consumers the information they need to make sound decisions regarding education and training. This is especially important for individuals as they enter the labor market where the ability to translate skills and related credentials efficiently and clearly into employment opportunities is crucial. For these reasons, NAWB supports investments in innovative solutions that progress operational efficiency to maximize high-quality outcomes for job seekers and employers, particularly efforts that ensure the standardization of language describing skills and interoperability of learner outcomes.
- Drive awareness of workforce development boards’ value. Composed of employers, labor unions, educators and elected officials, workforce development boards assemble a diverse range of community stakeholders intentionally positioned to best understand their locality’s workforce and education needs. This structure enables workforce development boards to tailor comprehensive services that empower program enrollees to be successful and obtain sustainable, quality employment. workforce development boards are the collaborators of the publicly funded workforce system and NAWB encourages efforts that leverage and promote their value to communities across the country.
How can community colleges ensure they have a (literal) seat on workforce development boards?
There are many ways for a community college to partner with workforce development boards.
First is through sitting on a local workforce development board. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act requires local workforce development boards to have 19 members at a minimum, with the majority representing businesses. In addition, local workforce development boards are required to include a representative of institutions of higher education, which could include community colleges.
Second, the community college can reach out to the local WDB to learn about their programs and services and, at the same time, help them know how you can help contribute to the services they provide.
What are some of the latest NAWB initiatives and how can community colleges get involved?
NAWB’s mission is to continuously advance America’s workforce system by ensuring workforce development boards have the expertise and capacity to meet the needs of business, job seekers and communities. NAWB dedicates much of its time and resources to providing technical assistance to several workforce initiatives, ensuring the story of workforce development boards and the workforce system is being told, and advocating for policy change to allow workforce development boards to better serve their communities.
NAWB is careful to select national projects and partners, like the American Association of Community Colleges, that can also benefit its wider constituency of members. The NAWB team takes special care to ensure that lessons learned while working on various projects and initiatives are shared throughout its wider network – whether supported by government grants, foundation dollars, or corporate underwriting.
One recent initiative NAWB is working on is the Supply Chain Automation Workforce Hub (HUB), a one-stop solution for recruiting and training supply chain automation specialists, focused on work-based learning and in partnership with Manhattan Strategy Group and U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
The Hub is a one-stop solution for recruiting and training supply chain automation specialists. We help employers and education institutions develop Registered Apprenticeship Programs (RAPs), customized training programs, which develop their supply chain automation talent pipelines. The Hub supports workforce development boards and community colleges as they engage employers in need of supply chain specialists. This support has contributed to efforts by community colleges across the country to meet an increasing workforce need for skilled workers in this field.
NAWB is also working with community colleges as part of a DOL grant to support efforts to develop and expand RAPS. We have supported efforts to build partnerships that connect workforce development boards, community colleges, community-based organizations and employers to impact local labor market needs and economic growth.
NAWB has partnered with community colleges to advance economic mobility of families and job seekers. NAWB is working with community colleges to increase coordination and collaboration between workforce development boards and community colleges to support low-income families access to workforce training through SNAP E&T programs. We’re also working with stakeholders to promote postsecondary success for parents and identifying best practices and strategies in higher education and workforce development that can be highlighted and elevated.
In addition, NAWB will once again convene the leading voices in workforce development at its annual Forum in Washington, D.C., March 25-28. The Forum is the nation’s largest annual workforce development conference, a gathering of the leaders, stakeholders and policymakers with the power to drive positive change. Community college leadership is highlighted in many of the education sessions and there are a number of panels that community college leaders would benefit from.