A Publication of WTVP

Over the next few decades, America will be faced with monumental, unprecedented challenges that will determine the future and prosperity of our society. Among these challenges will be our ability to compete and prosper in a new economy where, after a century of American domination, the country will face stiff and unrelenting competition from a number of global competitors. This new economy will be driven by the increasing pace of technology and innovation which will be determined by the quantity, quality and economic alignment of the available human talent.

To meet this challenge, America will have to produce increasing numbers of workers with the skills to effectively compete in a twenty-first century global knowledge and innovation economy. A necessary step will be the development of a twenty-first century “workforce development system” at the nexus of education, economic and community development, designed to produce the talent force for a new era.

Currently, there is a debate at the state and national levels on the scope and nature of the workforce development system. Traditionalists want to see the workforce system as a “targeted training program” in the mode of employment and training programs that currently proliferate federal and state government. Unfortunately, there are about 50 different programs at the state level administered by 15 different state agencies. These programs have no strong connection or link to the economic engines of local communities and lack a comprehensive vision, planning or unified system to align programs to local economies.

Increasing numbers of visionaries see workforce development as different from traditional targeted job training programs. Workforce development is both broader and more comprehensive than job training. It deals with the quantity, quality and economic alignment of the workforce. Do we have enough workers to meet the needs of our economy; do they have the right skills for a 21st century knowledge and innovation economy; and does the skill set of our workforce align with the emerging jobs of today and tomorrow?

Workforce development deals with the entire spectrum of the workforce. Entrant workers—those young people transitioning from our educational system into the workforce. Do they have enough education, training and skills for the future jobs? Transitional workers— those individuals transitioning in and out of the workforce at any given time. Do they need to upgrade their skills with additional education and training? Incumbent workers—those workers currently employed. Lifelong learning and professional development will be essential elements to keep the skillset of today’s workers aligned with new technologies and business processes. Under this definition, “job training” becomes a subset—a tool—in a comprehensive workforce development system.

As our nation, states and local communities wrestle with the challenges of a twenty-first century global innovation economy, the quantity, quality and economic alignment of our workforce will be a critical factor for economic prosperity. An effective workforce development system must emerge from the existing patchwork of job training programs to address these challenges. The new system must focus on the workforce needs of local economies with business as the primary customer. The system should be locally led with adequate support and resources from the federal and state government. The daunting nature of these economic and workforce challenges requires a renewed national commitment and new national priorities. Increased resources and supplemental funding to restore federal allocations to adequate levels will be absolutely essential. Bold new thinking and drastic shifts in current public policy will also be necessary to realize this vision. IBI