How to Become a Leader of Workforce Development

Posted by Penn Foster on February 13, 2019

Addressing the skills gap is the responsibility of every business. No one is better positioned to understand the workforce development needs of a particular industry than the business leaders who work within it. By getting involved in the broader workforce development effort, you bolster the health of your industry as a whole and help close the gap.

The skills gap is a real and immediate challenge for many businesses, especially those who have open positions for middle skills workers. There simply aren't enough workers qualified for middle skills jobs, and yet the demand continues to grow. According to the ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey for Q3 2018, manufacturing, technology, construction, retail and similar industries are looking to grow their workforce by between 16 and 22%.

Middle skills jobs are particularly hard to fill because these industries are changing rapidly. The wide adoption of technology requires workers with new skill sets. Take the manufacturing industry for example. As automation becomes more common in the industry, workers are now expected to have the technical skills to run complex, computer-based machines. Attracting and retaining these workers has become an essential objective for business success in the industry.

Government leaders and organizations are not blind to the problem. There has been much discussion about improving access to STEM programs and creating curriculum that meet the needs of employers. However, these changes come slowly, and without the input of employers like you, they may not be all that effective. That's why you should jump at the chance to become a workforce development leader for your industry.

While many employers recognize the problem, they're not sure how to get involved in the solution. Implementing apprenticeship programs, forging learning partnerships, and joining workforce development boards are all ways to lead by example and make sure your needs are met.

Create an apprenticeship program

Businesses like Siemens are taking matters into their own hands. When they wanted to open a gas turbine plant in Charlotte, North Carolina, they realized that there weren't enough skilled workers available to fill the 1,500 new jobs. So they launched a structured apprenticeship program that would quickly build a workforce.

"We recognize a huge responsibility to offer people learning opportunities as they go." Siemens CEO Barbara Humpton told Ben White of The Agenda.

Another business that embraced the responsibility was MetroPower Inc.. The electrical contractor partnered with Penn Foster to create a four-year DOL-registered Electrician Apprenticeship. MetroPower provides the hands-on training and Penn Foster delivers related instruction online. Particularly for middle skills jobs, that combination of hands-on skills and higher education is hard to come by outside of an apprenticeship program.

Apprenticeships are a great deal for businesses and job seekers alike. The business gets a ready supply of highly qualified workers. Meanwhile, workers get an education while earning a paycheck. When their education is complete, they get a full time job. Everybody wins.

If your business wants to develop a specialized workforce to fill in-demand roles, an apprenticeship program may be the right choice.

Find a learning partner

Compassion-First Pet Hospitals partnered with Penn Foster College and Cedar Valley College to provide educational development options for non credentialed veterinary technicians and assistants. These non-credentialed workers can earn their associate of science degree in veterinary technology, making them eligible to to take the Veterinary Technician National Exam and earn the credential in their state.

Some businesses are getting involved even earlier in the workforce development pipeline. They're partnering with high schools to get students interested in their industries before those students decide on their career paths. Others are taking a more traditional approach by providing tuition assistance and reimbursement.

Tuition assistance programs are becoming more common among some of the biggest names in U.S. business, including Walt Disney Co., Discover Financial Service, Walmart, and Taco Bell. In most cases, these programs are structured as a partnership between the business and a school. The business strikes a deal with the college or education provider enabling them to provide free or discounted education to employees of that business. Businesses protect their investment by only offering tuition assistance for programs that meet one of their high-demand needs.

Combining forces with a learning partner allows your business to directly impact how the workforce is developed. At the same time, you help your learning partner build a better understanding of what businesses in your industry need and expect from workers.

Join a workforce development board

Businesses can also join their local workforce development board. These boards take responsibility for facilitating partnerships between local businesses and between businesses and education providers. They are made up of businesses, community colleges, training providers and elected officials all focused on improving workforce development in a specific industry or area.

In some cases, these boards launch their own training programs to address workforce development challenges. For example, in 2018, the Dallas workforce board, as part of Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas' larger initiative, partnered with Penn Foster to launch a technology-driven solution that helps job-seekers access training in critical skills. The program benefits workers who build stronger skill sets, and employers, who get more qualified workers.

Local chapters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation are also leading conversations about workforce development. Joining your local chapter can connect you with fellow business leaders who are facing similar challenges. By pooling knowledge and resources you can help close the skills gap.

Lead by example

If your business wants to see real improvement across the workforce, you need to lead by example. Start internally by training your existing workforce. Prepare them for jobs both inside and outside your organization. Yes, you might invest time and money into developing an employee who may leave for another organization, but that risk is smaller than you think.

Every well-trained worker improves the strength of the talent pool. If every business takes responsibility for their own workers, both new and existing employees, the entire workforce will get stronger. That's a positive result for your industry and for the nation.

If you're ready to start strengthening your workforce, contact Penn Foster. We've partnered with businesses of all sizes to create apprenticeship programs, training programs and learning opportunities for their employees.