The New American Economy

By: Patrick J. Holwell Issue: Education & Workforce Development Section: Jewel Of Collaboration

Workforce Development in the 21st Century

New American Economy The United States is presently in a deep recession, which began in December 2007, and has intensified considerably in the last calendar quarter. The U.S. has lost 1.2 million jobs in the three month period ending October 30, 2008 and over 2 million jobs in the calendar year. On December 5, 2008 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment had fallen by 533,000 jobs in November, causing the national unemployment rate to rise to 6.7 percent. Unemployment is expected to rise further, possibly reaching 8 percent or more in the first quarter of 2009. The deepening crisis within the U.S. financial system has caused a severe tightening of short-term credit, which has become virtually unavailable, forcing many small businesses and a limited number of large businesses to close their doors. Major bailout packages are being designed for the ailing financial and automotive industries, and workers throughout the country are worried about staying employed.

At the same time, the U.S. workforce has been falling further and further behind in developing the high skill levels necessary to keep American industries globally competitive.

Troubling results reported by the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that 15-year-olds in the U.S. placed 16th out of 30 industrialized nations in their science scores, and 23rd in mathematics. The National Science Foundation reports that freshman college enrollments in mathematics and sciences peaked in 1992 in U.S. colleges and universities, and have consistently gone down through the present date, while at the same time foreign student enrollments have steadily increased at the same schools. Thus, in spite of the spiking unemployment rate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports monthly that between 2.3 to 2.5 percent of all open jobs go unfilled because employers cannot find people with the skills to fill them.

The Workforce System Adds Value and Competitiveness

Against this backdrop, our national Workforce Development System is a key partner in moving the United States into a new 21st Century economy.

The Workforce Development System as we know it today was born in 1933, during the Great Depression, when it was vital to match people with jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible. Later, as higher levels of skills were needed by U.S. employers, a training component was added.

Today, the Workforce Development system operates under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Labor through local Workforce Centers, (also called One-Stop Career Centers), serving Americans throughout the United States and its territories.

Workforce Centers offer two major services in their communities. First, they provide a labor exchange, where employers can list job openings free of charge, and any individual eligible to work in the United States can register free of charge and be referred to openings for which he/she is qualified. To supplement the basic labor exchange function, employers can also obtain a variety of services, including access to accurate wage and employment information and information on employment law. Job seekers can get the latest information about how to conduct an effective job search, upgrade their resumes, do well in a job interview, and access other services in the community which they might need.

If a job seeker cannot find work using the basic labor exchange system, they may access further services, including career assessment, customized career planning, supportive services and tuition assistance in occupational training to become marketable in the local community. Generally, such training is short-term, and includes occupational or vocational certificates, associate level degrees or post-baccalaureate certificates.

Many employers do not realize they can access thousands of highly qualified job candidates at all levels of skill and education from their local Workforce Center.

One of the most important things for employers to know about Workforce Centers is that they have a wide variety of workers at all levels of education and occupational skill on their rolls. For instance, at Arapahoe/Douglas Works! Workforce Center, serving Arapahoe and Douglas counties, which make up the southeastern part of the Denver Metro Area in Colorado, an employer can find a qualified candidate to match virtually any job qualification. At this writing, Arapahoe/Douglas Works! offers employers in Metro Denver almost 65,000 job candidates at all skill and education levels, including over 18,000 with a bachelors degree or higher. Skills of these workers include management, financial, computer sciences, physical and life sciences, healthcare practitioners and support workers, technicians, construction, transportation and production workers, educators and administrative support personnel.

Workforce Centers nationwide can offer a similar variety of candidates, and employers can register openings free of charge and get referrals of qualified and skilled candidates to keep them competitive. Many Workforce Centers also offer other services, such as hosting hiring events, space to interview candidates and custom training for incumbent or new workers.

Workforce Centers also offer a variety of services to community youth, acting in concert with industry leaders to educate youth in viable career pathways, build leadership, teamwork and professional skills, obtain high school diplomas, and encourage entry into higher education.

Nationally, the Workforce System is a key component in keeping American industries competitive in a global economy. While K-14 and the Higher Education system do their part over the long-term, Workforce Centers handle current and short-term needs through labor exchange and investment in human capital through occupational training directly relevant to local employer needs. Throughout this decade, the Workforce System has been called upon to enhance the economic vitality and global competitiveness of high-growth industries through sustainable partnerships with economic developers, K-14, higher education and business leaders. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Labor unveiled Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development (WIRED), which formalized these partnerships through national Workforce System policy.

In what is being called by some economists the deepest recession in over 70 years, the Workforce System is positioned to stand and deliver services and training that will keep American industry competitive in the 21st Century. The incoming Administration has announced two major initiatives in which Workforce Centers throughout the nation will be key movers. New American Economy With the announcement that 533,000 jobs had been lost in November 2008, well over 10 million Americans are presently out of work. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports slightly over 3 million job openings. First, to pull the United States back to economic stability, and put millions of unemployed Americans back to work, a massive cash infusion of $60 billion over ten years for vitally needed infrastructure improvements will be given to the Governors of the fifty states. The Workforce System has virtually all of the 10.5 million unemployed Americans on its rolls, and can act as an employer of record, working with the various Governors to recruit, train and place over 2 million workers into ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects that will stimulate an estimated $35 billion per year in economic activity throughout the nation.

Infrastructure projects will not be in short supply, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2008 report card. In Colorado alone, 43 percent of the roads are in mediocre or poor condition, the wastewater infrastructure needs an estimated $2.2 billion in improvements, 17 percent of the bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, 186 dams have been determined deficient with a price tag of $369.4 million, and 58 percent of schools have at least one structural deficiency and 63 percent at least one environmental deficiency.

Over the longer term, the incoming Administration has set the goal of energy independence for the United States by 2019. In January 2009, up to $70 million in additional funds will be injected into the Workforce System to provide occupational training assistance in new energy ‘green collar’ jobs for unemployed workers. In addition, monies will be released through the Small Business Administration and a variety of other government agencies to encourage new energy start-ups and stimulate more rapid development of green technologies in established companies.

Since the late 1980s, many forward-looking Americans have realized that keeping U.S. industries competitive in a global economy is a national security issue.

In addition, funding will remain intact for existing Workforce System initiatives providing short-term occupational training in support of other high growth industries, such as Healthcare, Bioscience, Aerospace, National Security, Information Technology, Automotive, Construction, Education, Advanced Manufacturing, and Transportation.

The national Workforce System will continue to do its part in keeping American workers and American businesses competitive in a global economy, because those serving in it realize that a strong, vibrant economy contributes significantly to the long-term security and strength of the United States.

The Workforce System in Colorado

Colorado boasts nine Workforce Regions that serve Workforce Development needs throughout the state. In the year ending June 30, 2008, Colorado’s Workforce Centers put almost 118,000 people to work, and provided occupational training for over 7,700 people. In the current year, which began July 1, 2008, Colorado Workforce Centers have put almost 50,000 people to work and are training over 5,300 people for jobs in high-growth industries.

In 2005, the Denver Metro region received a $15 million WIRED grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that was designed to build the training infrastructure for high-demand occupations in targeted industries. This stimulated efforts throughout Colorado to reach out to employers in a variety of industries, find out what skill sets were most needed, and worked in partnership with the K-14 and Higher Education systems to grow the training pipeline for high-skilled workers.

Throughout the state, Workforce Centers have segmented both available workforce and targeted industries in their regions, and have built sustainable partnerships with employers in high-growth industries, economic developers, K-14 and Higher Education to ensure that Colorado businesses will have the continuous supply of skilled labor they need to remain competitive globally and to enhance overall economic vitality. Sustainable partnerships, like the Southeast Colorado E3 Partnership, STEM-EC (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics Educational Coalition), and multi-regional efforts in the Denver Metro Area, such as the Arapahoe/Douglas Works! Expert Technician Academy, which provides customized training in technical skills needed most by area employers, and its Youth Energy Conservation Corps, which prepares youth for the New Energy jobs of tomorrow, have been created and are successfully training tomorrow’s workforce.

Continuous Improvement and Business Results in Workforce Development

Continuous improvement efforts are ubiquitous throughout the Workforce Development System at national, state and local levels. The present Administration developed a President’s Management Agenda (PMA) for all federal agencies that has driven systemic improvement and business results in the Workforce system. The PMA calls for improved outcomes in five areas: human capital, competitive sourcing, financial performance, improved e-government, and budget performance/integration.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor received its eighth consecutive Certificate of Excellence from the Association of Government Accountants. Since 2001, the Department has received four Presidential Quality Awards, and has been ranked #1 four times among all federal agencies for its annual Performance and Accountability Report by the George Mason University Mercatus Center.

In Colorado, all Workforce Regions have embraced the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, and have embarked upon the performance excellence journey.

Several Colorado Workforce Centers, including Arapahoe/Douglas Works!, have used the Malcolm Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence since 1995 as a lens through which to gauge process improvement and boost results, and have been involved with Colorado’s Baldrige affiliate, Colorado Performance Excellence, since its inception. In 2004, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment embraced the Baldrige Criteria, and at present, all Workforce Regions within Colorado have embarked upon the journey to performance excellence.

Professionals in Colorado’s Workforce Development System, and throughout the nation, recognize their work is vital to the economic well-being of local communities, their states, and that their efforts contribute to the security of our nation in an increasingly flat, fast-moving, and hyper-competitive global economy. America cannot prosper in the 21st Century without a highly-skilled, well-trained and upwardly mobile workforce, and its Workforce Development System is a key component in the creation of the New American Economy.