The Strategic Workforce Alignment Group (SWAG) in Cleveland, Ohio, is a partnership created “to develop an approach for the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) to improve the alignment of workforce employment, training, and education programs with the needs of employers for skilled workers.”6 The Department of Labor team member assigned to Cleveland spearheaded the initial effort that led to the formation of SWAG in response to the city’s desire for a more effective workforce system.
The workforce system was one of the focus areas that emerged from Cleveland’s SC2 assessment, which suggested that there was a need for better alignment with other strategies, such as economic development and technical education, and suggested that because the city did not have dedicated staff working on these issues, a federal team could play a critical role in helping the city work across the education, workforce, and economic development silos. The SC2 2012 work plan reflected these recommendations.
The Cleveland/Cuyahoga County WIB hired a new director in June 2011, providing an opportunity for new thinking and new leadership. Three months later, the full-time DOL team member relocated to the city and her new office was four doors away from the WIB director. Their proximity and shared interest provided an opportunity for the two to work together closely on finding new ways to address workforce challenges. Soon, the director and other WIB members began to tap the team member for ideas about how to proceed with their strategic planning efforts. The first step of their plan for moving forward was to have the team member meet with 30 to 40 organizations to discuss challenges and opportunities in the workforce system and to better understand how the system worked. This process of engaging community stakeholders allowed the DOL team member to raise awareness of the WIB’s strategic planning effort and also helped build a sense of shared ownership of the problem and solution.
After the team member presented her findings to the WIB, the WIB members decided to create a new WIB subcommittee to further investigate possible strategies to address the issues that were raised. The subcommittee was named SWAG, and the WIB approved it in May 2012. From there, the team member took the lead in bringing together partners, including some from beyond the WIB membership, to serve on the subcommittee. These partners were selected based on their ability to work together and were tasked to find practical solutions within a six-month timeframe.
SWAG included about 20 representatives from the public and nonprofit sectors as well as some trade associations. After meeting on a monthly schedule during the six month exploration period, SWAG issued its final report on practical solutions in March 2013. The report, Building a Competitive Workforce, presented specific measurable strategies to address three types of workforce gaps (information gaps, skill gaps, and location mismatches).
Although the team member had extensive knowledge of federal workforce policies as a result of having held leadership positions in many of DOL’s agencies, interviews suggest that her current position as a federal employee was not a requirement for her success. Her role at the federal government and connection to SC2 did lend credibility to the WIB’s workforce efforts, and organizations were more interested in joining the effort when they heard she was involved, but those interviewed credited her knowledge of national initiatives, experience managing processes and facilitating groups, willingness to try new tactics and solve complex problems, and ability to ask questions without preconceived opinions as more important to spearheading the creation of the partnership than her position as a federal employee.
Although SWAG was initially created as a task force to develop a plan, the partnership decided to continue meeting and is now focused on implementing its recommendations.
6 Strategic Workforce Alignment Group (SWAG) (2013). Building a Competitive Workforce: Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.employmentconnection.us/pdf_employmentconnection/en-US/Buildi....