Skip to main content

Workforce Development Planning

STRATEGY: Create a plan for business leaders and community organizations to support the school’s workforce plan.

There are big challenges for workforce development in the United States. Thirty years ago, 80 percent of American manufacturing jobs were unskilled, while today less than 12 percent fall in that category. From cloud technologies to globalization to emergent markets, the labor market is rapidly evolving. Workforce development can no longer just prepare workers for the jobs that exist now, it must prepare them for the jobs that are coming in the future. Informed by research compiled by the Third Way think tank, the strategies offered here are for businesses and communities to consider as they engage in workforce development.


Workforce development is an interconnected set of solutions to meet employment needs. It can include changes to culture, changes to attitudes, and changes to people’s potential that help to positively influence a business’s future success. Workforce development is also sometimes referred to as employee development and is considered an important aspect of business success.

In order to succeed, workforce development providers must collaborate with local businesses to ensure that their students gain skills that align with employers’ needs. A common critique of poor training programs is that they train people for jobs that no longer exist, or that the curriculum they cover is irrelevant. As Professor Edward Gordon stated, “The education and employment link is broken.” Industry-specified training also benefits companies and the economy as a whole. Employers want an adequate supply of qualified workers, students want to be assured that there will be a job for them at the end of their training program, and communities want their economies to thrive and the local tax base to grow.

First Steps to Consider

Schools can manage strong partnerships with businesses and communities by doing the following:

  • Use labor market data to drive decisions. Successful programs study trends in the job market, often in conjunction with talks with local business, to determine which fields are growing and then adjust their efforts accordingly. Exemplary workforce development programs use labor market data and job projections to tailor training to growing industries and eliminate irrelevant programs. Strong programs share this information with their students, as many students have little way of knowing which industries are expanding in their area.
  • Frame workforce development training as a job. There are several ways to integrate realistic work experiences into workforce development training programs. Effective programs may utilize any number of the following approaches:
  • Provide classrooms or training facilities that recreate the workplace through hands-on instruction and projects that the student would typically encounter on the job.
  • Put into place a dress code, schedule, or other rules that mimic the student’s future workplace.
  • Provide internships, which give students the chance to learn on the job during a temporary period of employment.
  • Encourage apprenticeships, which typically pay students to work and train under the guidance of an experienced employee.
  • Offer clinical rotations, which allow students to gain supervised work experience in different medical specialties.
  • Emphasize employer-mentored training programs for vocational skills with the chance of being hired by the employer after graduation.
  • Connect people to careers. Workforce development providers can help bring transparency to the job market and build career tracks in the following ways:
  • Clarifying the skills that employers demand for the various jobs in their industry.
  • Designing a series of connected education programs that correspond to each step along a career path.
  • Matching job seekers to employers who seek their skills, and vice versa.
  • Creating networking opportunities among job seekers and employers.
  • Provide wraparound, comprehensive support services to students, such as the following:
  • Remedial training classes and/or professional development for struggling students or new employees.
  • Soft skills and/or job readiness training covering topics like resume writing, job interviews, and time management.
  • Assistance with child care for workers and students.
  • Subsidized transportation such as free or reduced-fare bus or subway passes.
  • Adopt a mentorship approach to workforce development. The UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School recommends the following steps for businesses to build mentorship within a workforce development program:
  • Determine objectives.
  • Identify mentorship duration.
  • Determine which employees will be involved.
  • Select the mentorship structure: one-on-one mentoring, e-mentoring, group mentoring, peer mentoring, reverse mentoring (in which a younger mentor provides a fresh perspective for an older mentee), or a combination of these approaches.

Complexities & Pitfalls

One component commonly missing in workforce development training is evaluation of the program’s impact on employers, students, and the community. Business and community stakeholders should include the following items in a workforce development program:

  • A set of long-term outcome measurements to track the program’s success, such as two-year job retention rates or client satisfaction.
  • A set of interim measurements, like students’ progress toward earning a certification, to make sure that the organization is on track to meet long-term goals.
  • Databases or other software programs to keep track of key information, like clients’ demographic profiles, educational progress, and job placements.
  • Discussions of progress on a regular basis to identify problem areas or highlight successful initiatives.
  • Iterative changes and improvements to the program based on data trends.

Guiding Questions

  • What are the workforce opportunities in my school’s surrounding community? 
  • What data workforce sources are already established? What new data sources need to be identified? 
  • How have previously workforce development programs in this community succeeded? 
  • How are we defining success in a workforce development program