A workforce intermediary strategy seeks to help workers advance, businesses fi ll critical job shortages, and ultimately boost regional and national economic growth and productivity. Such ambitious goals require a “high impact” strategy, one that results in quality services to a greater share of workers and employers and meaningful changes to local and regional labor markets. The challenge is to get beyond what one Assembly participant called “pockets of unreplicable greatness” to a wider scale.
This strategy is an important response to the larger workforce crisis confronting this nation.
The severity of the impending workforce crisis requires nothing less than a major transformation in how the workforce system and workforce organizations go about their business. This change will require that intermediary functions and practices should be widely adopted by thousands of existing organizations -- Workforce Investment Boards, community colleges, employer associations, labor programs, community development venture capital funds and community-based organizations. New partnerships between these groups can increase effectiveness in serving employers.
To accomplish this transformation, the system will require:
- An understanding that workforce development is as much an economic policy as a social policy;
- New policies that increase the accountability and impact of programs;
- Decisions by funders to create incentives for the use of dual-customer approaches;
- A venture capital orientation on the part of funders, rewarding adaptive capacity and good results over sustained periods;
- Increasing research that demonstrates what works;
- Timely data on local labor markets for mapping labor supply and demand and career opportunities, and identifying job training opportunities and gaps and evaluating the effectiveness of workforce policies and investments;
- Leadership across employer associations, labor groups, community organizations, and community colleges with entrepreneurial vision and the skills to manage these “double bottom line” endeavors, and
- Cross-sector sharing of information and most effective practices that advance workers in the American mainstream, increase business productivity, and enhance regional competitiveness.
Implementing the workforce intermediary approach is itself a challenge. For example, finding common ground between business and worker/jobseeker interests is a challenge. At times, these two perspectives have been assumed to be in opposition. However, finding the intersection between these two is essential in order to ensure business productivity, worker advancement, and regional competitiveness in the new skills economy. In addition, intermediary organizations operate in a fragmented policy and institutional environment and must often negotiate new roles and relationships while sidestepping destructive turf battles. This requires trust, credibility, and influence -- as well as careful diplomacy.
Further, the intermediary approach often faces all the challenges of an emerging business venture. Financial instability, limited resources, strained leadership, and the risks of taking success to scale must be successfully managed.
Many organizations have struggled with the constantly changing landscape of public workforce funding. Public funds have been cut and strict eligibility requirements, short-term timelines, and disparate performance measures have negatively affected outcomes. In general, some level of funding has been available for recruiting and training, but limited funding has been available to help businesses retain new workers and to help workers advance to higher quality jobs. In addition, there is no dedicated public funding for research and planning efforts that bring together stakeholders within specific industries to implement long-term strategies that address changing skill standards and related business needs. More and smarter funding is needed.
Workforce intermediary organizations and employer partners need flexible capital to create innovations in the public or private sector. Several states have created bond financing tools and investment tax strategies to support efforts of intermediary organizations to meet skill shortage demands and wage advancement goals. Other intermediary organizations have created blended financing strategies that include public funding and revenue-generating businesses. Based on the experience of these intermediary organizations, flexible financing options are needed to expand the impact of these strategies as well as support their efforts to increase capacity.
In addition to financial challenges, a variety of environmental forces constrain the emerging workforce intermediary efforts. A sometimes rigid policy environment and long-standing practices limit the acceptance of this new approach. Furthermore, slow decision making, inappropriate outcome measures, and cumbersome rules impede the attainment of positive outcomes for workers, firms, and regions.
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