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Address Community’s Workforce Needs

STRATEGY: Engage and collaborate with stakeholders and partners to build an understanding of the connection between the school and the community.

According to McKinsey Consulting, 40 percent of American employers say they cannot find people with the skills they need, even for entry-level jobs. More than half of employers cite a lack of proper workforce preparation, which includes entry-level jobs. This “skills gap” correlates with the education “achievement gap,” and it signifies a tremendous segment of untapped talent. If uncorrected, these gaps have large consequences, including economic underperformance, social unrest, and the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty. There is a need for robust workforce development programs at the high school and postsecondary levels that realistically align student workforce training with the local job market and demonstrate the value of these programs to students, employers, and the community.


According to analysis by the World Bank, workforce development serves the dual function of “enabling individuals to acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes for gainful employment or improved work performance” as well as providing employers with an effective means to communicate and meet their demand for skills. Moreover, RTI International defines workforce development as the alignment of education and training services with employer demand, and underscores the need to build systems that link job seekers and employers.

Building a successful workforce development program for students is predicated on the accurate assessment of employment needs in the community and the alignment of student skills with those specific professional expectations. Needs assessment should be done at the city and community levels, and then supported by interviews with major employers in the area. McKinsey found that the best workforce development solutions happen collaboratively with employers. One example is the Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative, which includes nineteen automotive companies and twenty-six educational institutions in thirteen states. Successful workforce development partnerships between schools and local employers develop long-term relationships and build their programs based on hard data. This grounds student training in a community’s actual strengths and needs and avoids chasing workforce fads. As McKinsey underscores, “The advice is ancient, but pertinent: know thyself.”

First Steps to Consider

  1. Jb mapping. To launch a successful workforce partnership with employers, schools and districts need to map out the local environment. This is often challenging, as local labor markets can be complex. A key first step is for schools and districts to identify community-based employers with the potential for high growth potential in areas where there are shortages or high turnover of workers.
  2. Job market data. Schools or districts ideally should conduct or get access to a job market analysis that highlights each employer’s assets and, if possible, their supply-and-demand dynamics, as well as the current snapshot of the workforce.
  3. Further data. Examine additional data sources, including the following:
    • Posted job vacancies.
    • Public infrastructure investment.
    • Demographics.
    • Local higher education research commercialization.
    • Community-based venture capital spending.
    • Specific regulation at the state and local levels.

Customized programs. Schools, districts, and colleges should ask themselves whether they have the capability to train students to meet the needs of local employers. Then, based on the responses employers provide in the assessments, workforce development programs should be customized to provide credentials to students based on the local job market. Below is a list of the sectors where workforce development programs are most common, as well as the certifications available in each sector.

Business Education Energy

Bookkeeping Early childhood Line workers

General management English language immersion Natural gas technician

Sales management Educational technology Power plant technician

Accounting Administration Renewable energy


Health Hospitality Information Technology

Wellness management Culinary arts Network technologies

Electronic health

records Hospitality management Cloud computing

Nursing Diversity management Information systems

Counseling Hospitality sales Business analytics

Law/Legal Manufacturing Transportation

Paralegal Automation Fleet management

Business law Materials manager Transit planning

Tax certificate Machining and metalworking Safety

Advocacy Project leader Signal and lighting

Complexities & Pitfalls

Overall, very few workforce development programs collect evidence of impact. Some merely track job placement at completion or retention after four to twelve weeks. Exemplar workforce development programs, however, show the community evidence that the program works and that students have a future career after completion. They link outcomes to their community asset assessment process. Once students are working, schools benefit from tracking the income of program graduates before and after completion, continued employment, job promotion, and any reliance on public support. These findings add an additional layer to the workforce development employer assessment and reveal what works and, just as importantly, what needs to change.

Concrete evidence of impact for partnering employers for workforce development student programs is difficult to find, and this lack of evaluation is why many employers are reluctant to participate in school workforce programs, much less to pay for them. Therefore, it is advantageous to track metrics that link school programs to employer success as much as possible. Recent federal legislation, known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), aims to make the workforce development system more outcome driven and to emphasize training that leads to jobs. Gathering employer return-on-investment data is not only important for employers but can also help local agencies meet WIOA requirements. These metrics, while difficult for schools to capture, include the following:

  • The cost of program recruitment and training.
  • Employer productivity and quality outcome.
  • Student-worker retention.
  • Speed to promotion.

Guiding Questions

  • What sectors of the economy should your school’s workforce development program align with?
  • What local businesses and community organizations should your school collaborate with?
  • How can your school evaluate workforce development programs in a resource-effective manner?