Insights and Perspective

 

Insights and Perspective

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Workforce Development Month: An Opportunity to Recognize the U.S. Workforce System

The United States Senate recently passed Resolution 346, which designates September as Workforce Development Month, and pays homage to a system of more than 550 workforce development boards and 2,400 American Job Centers that, according to the National Association of Workforce Boards, interacts with 1 out of 12 citizens in the U.S. each year. The system is part of critical infrastructure that originated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation during the Great Depression.

According to the resolution, jobs that require more than a high-school diploma but not a 4-year degree comprise 52 percent of the labor market, a discrepancy that limits career growth since only 42 percent of workers in the U.S have been able to access training at that level. The text of the designation highlights that 76 percent of business leaders noted in surveys and research that greater investment in skills training will help their businesses flourish.

The events of the last 18 months have brought workforce development to the forefront of many initiatives. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $100 billion in programs that will target underserved groups and students as part of the American Jobs Plan. The Build Back Better Agenda seeks to invest more in workforce development and fill jobs in growing sectors, such as construction and health care, through high-quality career and technical education pathways and registered apprenticeships.

The increased focus on workforce development in 2021 is also our chance to peer into the history and definition of the movement. 

The Roots of Workforce Development

In the United States, workforce development’s beginnings can be traced back to 1862 and 1890’s Morrill Acts. These acts funded educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to states to sell, raising funds to establish colleges. Each college would teach practical skills in agriculture, science, military science, and engineering.

In 1913, President William Howard Taft signed the act that established the U.S. Department of Labor. The movement to establish this federal department hinged upon a long-running campaign to establish a voice for the working population. The basis of their platform included needed enhancements to the welfare of working people and an improvement in working conditions. 

The New Deal in 1933 allowed the federal government to invest in workforce development services. In 1965, President John F. Kennedy’s Manpower Development and Training Act was designed to provide training to unemployed adults and a small percentage of youth workers whose skills needed upgrading. In 1973, the Manpower Act was revised to implement the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).

1982 saw the creation of Regional Service Delivery areas (a predecessor to modern-day Workforce Investment Areas) and a focus on providing training for unemployed adults and youth through a variety of programs with the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). 

In a Work First Foundation article by Rachel Tropp, a fellow at the organization, workforce development truly matured by the 1990's and now connected skills and vocational training services with industry demand and community-level economic needs.

In 1998, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) focused on the delivery of workforce development programs and related services through a nationwide network of one-stop career centers. President Obama reaffirmed WIA with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), legislation designed to improve the public workforce system by increasing coordination among federal workforce development and related programs. WIOA’s five titles authorized job training and related services to unemployed or underemployed individuals; authorized education services to assist adults in improving basic skills; amended the Wagner-Peyser Act of 1933 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and provided the needed provisions for transition between WIA and WIOA.

Sustaining Communities with Economic Growth 

What does workforce development mean today? The movement is essential for bridging the skills gap that naturally occurs with advancements to technology. Its approach to economic development maintains region’s economic stability and prosperity by focusing on people rather than business. Sector and place-based approaches dictate supply and demand, and modern-day philosophies prefer to blend the strategies together.  

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has a more general definition. According to the financial institution, the phrase describes a “wide range of activities, policies, and programs employed by geographies to create, sustain, and retain a viable workforce that can support current and future business industry.”

Colleen LaRose, President and CEO of the North East Regional Employment and Training Association gets right to the point and succinctly describes workforce development as a government system that helps put people to work.  

Reaffirming Our Commitment to Workforce Development

Growth in the workforce requires a collaborative approach between workforce agencies and partner programs to close the skills gap, increase job placements, reduce unemployment durations, and ultimately strengthen economic development initiatives. We support this effort with VOS Sapphire 21, a software solution that has transformed the way career centers deliver services to job seekers and employers.    

Join us in celebrating Workforce Development Month, the federally supported workforce system, and its unique partner programs. We’re invested in playing a large part in the effort to rebuild the economy, and provide career pathways that support families and help businesses find the skilled workers they need to get the job done.   



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