A Publication of WTVP

Over the last few years, we have discussed the real challenges our society faces as we compete in the new global economy. The 21st century brings new economic realities of global competition sparked by innovation, new technologies, accelerating change and higher skills and abilities to compete in the global talent pool. To meet this challenge, America will have to produce increasing numbers of workers with the skills aligned to the needs of the emerging economy. A necessary step will be the development of a 21st century “workforce development system” that is at the nexus of education, economic and community development and is designed to produce the talent for a new era.

During the 20th century, the U.S. economy was manufacturingbased, relying on massive quantities of low-skilled workers doing a few repetitive tasks. During this period, most workers could look forward to long-term employment with one or relatively few employers. Despite an increasing use of technology, many jobs could be held for long periods of time with basic education and short-term on-the-job training.

The 21st century brings new challenges, which include preparing a workforce for a globally competitive innovation economy where new technologies will drive rapid and on-going change. Future jobs will have higher skill and education requirements. Because many of these new jobs don’t even exist today, life-long learning will be essential for professional development; most people will have multiple jobs and careers over their lifetime as well as increasing opportunities for entrepreneurialism. In addition, demographic trends of baby-boomer retirements and flat population growth in the U.S. will result in fewer people entering the workforce. This is further compounded by lagging educational achievement, high urban dropout and youth unemployment rates and fewer U.S. students choosing engineering and science-related majors. This confluence of trends is creating serious skill shortages in our current economy, with projected shortages over the next 25 years of tens of millions of workers and critical shortages of engineers, scientists, nurses, technicians, technologists and teachers.

Historically, America has responded to changing economic circumstances with the creation of employment and training programs that targeted services to unemployed or economically disadvantaged segments of the population. Dating back to the 1930s, the federal government created dozens of job training and employment programs, numbering over 150 by the end of the century. However, a number of problems emerged with the many job training and employment programs of the 20th century. These include a lack of coordination among the federal, state and local agencies that administered the programs; no strong connection or link to the economic engines of local communities; lack of a comprehensive vision, planning or unified system to align programs to local economies; and the creation of inefficient federal and state administrative “silos” siphoning-off resources to local communities, inhibiting their ability to address their workforce needs.

In the mid 1990s the concept of “workforce development” emerged from the existing employment and training “system.” There was a growing realization that workforce development should be more effectively tied to state and local economic development strategies. The concept of workforce development in the ’90s was to coordinate the many federal job training programs, through local business-led workforce boards, into an integrated “one-stop system” that addressed the workforce needs of both businesses and individuals. This concept, however, was implemented with varying degrees of success in each state with the creation of 50 different state workforce systems.

In future issues we will explore the future of workforce development in the 21st century. IBI