For four days in Orlando, workforce development professionals gathered in one spot—one very large spot at the spacious Hilton Orlando—to hear best practices, soak in workshops, and get motivated by peers.
The National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP) annual conference appeals to a cross-section of front-line staff, business service reps, executive directors, board members, and workforce-oriented staff at colleges, universities, and non-profits. More than 900 attended the 2016 event.
Here are four takeaways from the conference.
Know and Show Your Impact
“We have to show the economic impact of what we’re doing,” said Kirkland Murray, the Vice Chair of the NAWDP Board of Directors and President and CEO of the Anne Arundel (Md.) Workforce Development Corporation.
Murray emphasized—several times—the importance of using data to assess the impact and return on investment of workforce development programs and then report that to decision-makers and legislators. It’s a must given the mandate of WIOA (the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) and the current political landscape.
If you compare fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2015, workforce development funding has gone up a bit. But if you use FY 2008 as the baseline, when jobseekers were flooding into career centers, federal funding has taken a pretty significant hit. And it’s hard to say what will happen in 2017.
NAWDP Executive Director Bridget Brown and National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) CEO Ron Painter joined Murray in briefing conference attendees about the latest happenings in Washington, D.C.
Although there are lots of unknowns because it’s an election year, workforce boards are plugging along at the local level. Murray pointed to Arapahoe/Douglas Works! in Colorado as a workforce board that’s done an excellent job determining its impact. (A/D Works! has used Emsi data and tools to do just that; read more here.)
— Emsi (@desktopecon) May 25, 2016
Data Is Crucial
In the workforce development world, data takes several forms. There are performance metrics that workforce boards track—very important with the increased oversight at the federal and state level (see above). And there are data points that workforce boards need to know about their economy, labor market, and residents.
What’s your region’s unemployment rate? How many people from outside your county are commuting in for work? What share of your population is at or below the poverty level? Which local industries are growing the fastest and which occupations are the hardest for regional employers to fill? These were among the data-oriented questions mentioned in Orlando.
One area where there’s an acute need for labor market information is in regional planning. At this stage with WIOA, states are setting up planning regions that lump together formerly distinct workforce development regions. In Oklahoma, for example, the state has set up four planning regions (after years of having smaller workforce investment areas).
How should regional workforce leaders proceed in building plans on their newly constructed regions? Local and regional data is a great start. A firm grasp of your planning regions’ most important industries, average hourly wages, and growing occupations can quickly get decision-makers on the same page. This data can also inform important planning decisions.
Business Engagement Is a Big Deal
Jobseekers and businesses—those are workforce development professionals’ two primary customers. The workshops at NAWDP centered on both, with business engagement the focus of no fewer than 10 of the sessions.
Workforce development professionals who focus on business services are always seeking to find ways to better communicate about how they can help employers with customized training programs. Again, being armed with data can help—both in figuring out which local businesses to meet with and going further in your conversations with those employers.
Here’s just one example: In its workshop with Emsi at NAWDP, the San Diego Workforce Partnership talked about how it presents labor market data to employers in interviews and asks it validate that data as part of research SDWP does on the San Diego economy.
Economic Development and Education Partnerships Abound
Economic development support is another key role that many workforce boards play in their communities. Partnerships with economic development and education entities were also a consistent theme at NAWDP. A few examples:
• Holly Moore and Jason Petrait of South Seattle College talked about local partnerships with Seattle-King County WDC and others in bringing apprenticeships programs to the region.
• Tim Sappington at the North Central Massachusetts WIB presented on his board’s partnership with Mount Wachusett Community College in helping train advanced manufacturing workers.
• Greg Wilson and David Tanner of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia presented on sector partnerships and aligning with training providers to meet local businesses needs.
These partnerships are core to the purpose of WIOA—which, in the words of NAWB, is “to better align the workforce system with education and economic development in an effort to create a collective response to economic and labor market challenges at the national, state, and local levels.”