More and more organizations in places as diverse as Wiscasset, Maine and San Francisco are showing encouraging results by using workforce intermediary approaches to help workers and business. But what exactly are these practices?
This approach arose in response to some of the limitations of the present workforce system. The current system is characterized by single customer focus on job applicants; a lack of knowledge of employers and their needs; a focus on limited employability training and initial placement and little post-placement retention and advancement services; and the fragmentation of the workforce community and its funding streams.
The “workforce intermediary” approach has several common characteristics. At their core, workforce intermediaries:
- Pursue a “dual customer approach” by serving businesses looking for qualified workers, and by serving job-seekers and workers looking to advance their careers;
- Organize multiple partners and funding streams around common goals, bringing together businesses, labor unions, educational institutions, social service agencies, and other providers to design and implement programs and policies to improve labor market outcomes;
- Provide or broker labor market services that go beyond recruitment and referral by understanding the special needs -- and gaining the trust -- of firms and industries;
- Reduce turnover and increase economic mobility for workers by assuring continued support and opportunities to upgrade skills;
- Achieve results with innovative approaches and solutions to workforce problems;
- Improve outcomes for firms and their workers by catalyzing improvements in public systems and business employment practices.
Business organizations, labor supported programs, nonprofit community organizations, the public workforce investment system, and community colleges all can pursue workforce intermediary strategies. The number of such efforts has risen from a handful in the early 1990s to several hundred today. Although they approach their tasks in different ways, successful intermediary organizations bring together key partners and functions to advance careers for all workers -- recognizing the special needs of low-skilled, low-wage workers -- increase business productivity, and improve regional competitiveness. (For descriptions of groups that perform workforce intermediary functions, go to http://www.opportunitiesatwork.org.)
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