Bend or Break: Workforce Program Adaptability

Social Solutions Blog

Bend or Break: Workforce Program Adaptability

“Change happens fast in the world of work,” according to a 2011 report on global workforce development. The report described the challenges that face workforce development programs around the world and across almost every business sector. Innovation, technology, and rapidly changing markets drive constant change.

A decade ago, the U.S. Department of Labor and the RAND corporation identified three trends that they predicted would shape the 21st-century workforce:

  1. Shifting demographic patterns
  2. The pace of technological change, and
  3. The path of economic globalization

Those trends have continued to drive constant and continual change in the world of workforce.

Building a strong, sustainable workforce development program means actively anticipating that change. Adaptability is the key to competitive advantage for companies. It’s also key to successful workforce development programming. Workforce program adaptability means making sure workers are prepared for both the jobs that are currently available and the jobs that will be needed in the future.

Designing for change must be a top priority for workforce program stakeholders. Keep reading to learn about three keys to making sure your workforce development program stays relevant and nimble in an ever-changing economy.

1. Collaborate with Employers

One of the biggest indicators of workforce program adaptability is strong relationships with employers. These relationships ensure that employers and industry experts can share their needs and expectations with workforce development service providers and educational institutions.

It’s not enough to simply connect with employers to place workforce development participants in current job openings. Likewise, surveys and other data collection efforts are useful tools for capturing employer opinions and needs, but still fall short of true collaboration. Strong collaboration requires employers to become vital participants in workforce development programs.

Employer collaboration can include inviting employers to serve on committees or advisory councils. Employers should be active team members when developing program content, structure, and communication systems. It may even mean inviting employers to participate in the creation and delivery of training and educational programs. Employers can provide guest speakers, offer entire training programs, and participate in internship and apprenticeship programs.

Employer collaboration provides access to vital industry and workforce information. Through both formal data collection efforts and regular engagement, employers provide a constant feed of industry insight and information. In turn, workforce development programs can easily adapt to incremental change on the ground and can more easily anticipate major shifts in workforce needs.

2. Capture and Share Meaningful Data

You can’t adapt to information you don’t have. As the Harvard Business Review puts it, “In order to adapt, [an organization] must have its antennae tuned to signals of change from the external environment, decode them, and quickly act to refine or reinvent its [service] model.”

Not surprisingly, the use of effective information technology is critical to workforce program adaptability. A strong data system should allow you to collect and use real-time data about education, training, support services, job seeker activities, and outcomes across workforce programs.

Integrating the right data system with effective case management will not only streamline service delivery, but also provide more consistent, detailed, and reliable data capture.

For example, Efforts to Outcomes (ETO®) software for Workforce includes a host of features that facilitate the efficient management of individual and group services through automated program eligibility determination, training plan creation, service tracking, and targeted job announcements. ETO allows you to easily aggregate and organize data to meet reporting requirements for federal and private funders. In fact, ETO for Workforce is designed to comply with the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) reporting requirements, with relevant reports built into the system.

Individual service providers benefit from strong information technology. However, the ability to share important metrics and outcomes data across programs and stakeholders creates greater workforce program adaptability.

Ideally, service providers and other workforce program partners implement a single data collection system. When that’s not feasible, it’s even more important to work together to define common metrics and outcomes data so information can be shared and aggregated. Finally, using a system that can generate easy-to-share reports can facilitate communication with partners and stakeholders across the community.

3. Link Workforce Programs to Careers Pathways

Workforce program adaptability is not just about creating programs that can adapt to changing circumstances, but also developing workers who can grow and adapt individually.

A recent review of successful workforce development programs explains:

“Strong workforce development providers don’t just help their students get jobs—they put them on a path to a lifetime career. Too often, it is not clear how to climb the rungs of the career ladder within a given industry. Imagine if you knew exactly what new skills you needed to master in order to get a promotion or change jobs. You would waste a lot less time trying to guess what your boss wanted, and you would not run the risk of investing in the wrong training program. Successful programs clarify the skills employers want for a series of progressively more advanced jobs in an industry. Having a clear sense of how to advance in one’s field means that graduates have the tools to continue developing their skills and growing themselves professionally.”

Adaptable workforce programs recognize that they must prepare workers for long-term employability. Employers benefit from workers who know how to progress along a career pathway that can evolve as circumstances change.

How Can You Make Your Workforce Development Program More Adaptable?

As you improve your workforce programs, make sure you’re collaborating with employers, capturing and sharing meaningful data, and linking workforce programs to career pathways. As you prioritize these markers of adaptability, you’ll build adaptability into the heart of your programs.

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