One Stops are Helping Businesses Upskill their Workforces
In a recent blog post, I mentioned the federal coalition, UpSkill America, and the work of the partnering organizations to help elevate the educational attainment of workers at all levels. Another one of the partnering organization involved in this initiative is the National Association of Workforce Boards. Ron Painter, who is the president and CEO of the organization has a compelling story about how local Workforce Boards and their One Stops can help businesses of all sizes upscale their workers, where to start, and what resources are available. Ron has a wealth of information and insights to share.
Q. Will you tell us about your organization and what is a local Workforce Board One Stop?
Ron: There are more than 500 local business-led workforce boards throughout the US and territories. So as the National Association, we are here to support their work through advocacy, not only on Capitol Hill, but also with other associations, representing them in conversations with the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, and others.
Secondly, we work with the boards on professional development. Both the staff and the board themselves because the boards are, again business-led volunteers, and there are other organizations that are a part of the boards too. Education is a part of the board, community-based organizations, some state agencies are a part of it too. And then we provide technical assistance. So we help when questions arise about different projects, federal legislation, or implementation of pieces of federal legislation.
Q. I understand you are under new legislation. What is the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act?
Ron: I call it the Innovation and Opportunity Act, or the I&O because innovation and opportunity have become two of the most critical words in the bill. If you look at the history of federal involvement in education this is an enormous advance because it’s a philosophical shift on two levels.
- For a long time, the system was focused on the job seeker. What the I&O calls workforce boards to do is to think about how does workforce development complement investments being made in economic development, or by businesses, which are critical to the regional economy the board may operate in.
- This concept of workforce development is a system. It’s a system inside other larger systems operating inside communities, such as the education system, the transportation system, and housing system. It’s a departure from prior federal legislation, and I think it is what’s exciting about the opportunity in front of us.
Q. What is the role of a local one-stop in developing the skills of workers?
Ron: When you look at the system, there are two parts to it. The first is the strategy. The Workforce Development Board’s role is to think about the investments being made to skill the workforce. So critical roles like analytics of the labor market information; what’s happening in the labor market in our local area or inside our region; what kind of occupations are being demanded; what employers can’t find; what do we look like in terms of demographics; and not just gender and ethnicity, but also in terms of skills and where we can find those skills.
The second component is external communication. It’s great that we might understand what’s going on in the labor market, but there are a lot of other players in the workforce development systems, so it’s critical the board develops a communication strategy to the rest of the system.
The third component the boards play is convening. Throughout the INO, it talks about local boards bringing together different players inside the workforce development system to both understand what we’re doing well, how can we improve as a workforce development system, and also to try and maximize the resources that are being committed to workforce development.
And the final component of strategy is oversight of the investments being made. The INO combines several federal programs giving planning and oversight responsibility for the boards, which is a critical role.
The second part of the system is the retail operation, which is the one-stop. There are more than 3,200 career One Stop locations across the US and territories, and those are the people who provide the direct services to the clients.
In response to how they develop the skills, first there is training money inside the I&O, actual tuition assistance an individual can get. But the law also talks about how Workforce Boards need to work with education in order to develop career pathways in the region. Coming back to analytics, Boards are called to understand; what’s happening in the labor market, what industry sectors are critical, what’s happening in those sectors and then how would one not only acquire the skills, but continue to acquire the skills to remain competitive in the labor force.
And I think one of the other ways they can help is by engaging and connecting businesses to the system. They work to gain the trust of businesses in the region that there is someone who is trying to figure out or work with them on what needs they have, and how does the region meet those business needs.
Q. What resources are available for employers who want assistance developing the skills of their current employees?
Ron: Recruitment help is one of those. So business coming into an area, events like recruitment or job fairs. Many of the boards participate in career fairs where they’re working with businesses to present opportunities to young people about, not only careers you might think of, but options and opportunities they might not have thought about.
An example from work at the local level is when I was in Pittsburgh. The steel industry has downsized significantly, and they thought, “We’re losing manufacturing.” But in fact, because of its steel heritage, there were a number of industries that supported steelmaking and manufacturing that stayed in Pittsburgh. But these were “hidden industries” if you will and they needed skilled workers and provided very good wages. So through job fairs the boards can get the message out to job seekers about “hidden” opportunities in the region.
I think also, boards can help small businesses understand the need for good and in some cases craft, job descriptions. Maybe the business is having a hard time finding a worker, so we sit down with the business to talk about “What are the skills you need? Where are you looking? Where might we suggest? ”, and communicate back to learning providers and job seekers when skills change or the need for specific skill sets changes.
The board, through the process of analyzing the labor market, has helped businesses understand that their wage structures were lower than the market average. This led them to make some decisions about how to do a better job of recruiting.
The workforce boards also act as a thought partner. We can sit down with businesses to discuss, “Where are you looking for skills now?” Then we can consider if there may be some hidden opportunities in the region for businesses to work with education providers to develop the talent they need.
The I&O also focuses on work-based learning as one of the tools for local boards. So businesses can design learning schemes for new hires through on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, and future employee development through internships and work experience options. These options aren’t all free, but my hope would be that businesses that are willing to commit resources will meet a willing partner in the workforce development system in their region. We might suggest internships since they are a great way for companies to influence the kind of skills individuals develop when they’re in career and tech centers and community colleges and other learning institutions. They get to see what kind of skills are utilized and the level of skills that are utilized at the employer.
Q. What would a typical process be like for a business and an I&O One-Stop to get a partnership formed and then workers trained?
Ron: It can be as simple as the business reaching out to the workforce board. Or answer yes or tell me more when somebody is asking them about, “Do you need to add workers?” “Can we help you?” “Are you part of the local workforce board?
The best approach for an employer is to work with the local workforce board to examine what would work best for the business. I think the employer coming, with an open mind about “how can we make this work?” is the critical ingredient.
Q. How can a local employer get connected to one of their local I&O One Stops?
Ron: They can go to the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration website to find a listing, or they can go to workforceinvestmentworks.com and at the bottom there’s a button that says “Find a local expert.” It will open an interactive state map, then click on the state they’re in and it will show them a list of workforce boards, and the One Stop locations.
Boards have some flexibility in the I&O and decisions about where to invest time and resources. Getting engaged with the Board is good for both the business and for the local board as each designs strategies to meet their objectives.
About Ron Painter
Mr. Painter assumed his role at NAWB in July of 2009. In his capacity as CEO of NAWB, Painter has traveled the country meeting with State and Local workforce leaders in an effort to identify cutting-edge practices and programs and understand how best to spread innovative trends in human capital development throughout the nation-wide job training system. Painter was the founding CEO of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board in Pittsburgh, where under his leadership the organization focused on producing labor market research, working with public educators on improved student career information, supporting community leaders in the development of regional benchmarks, and establishing the Regional Workforce Collaborative with a membership of community colleges, WIBs, employers, labor, and economic development professionals.
Before joining the Three Rivers Workforce Board, he worked in Washington, DC, first on loan to the U.S. Department of Labor for the Enterprise Project, and then for the National Alliance of Business. Mr. Painter holds an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Grove City College in Pennsylvania and a Master’s in Public Administration and advanced graduate coursework from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public & International Affairs, where he served as Adjunct Faculty.