At a time when the dysfunction in Washington, D.C. is at its highest and public approval of Congress is at its lowest, it is heartening to see some renewed focus on significant workforce development issues. Just recently, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions (National Fund) witnessed the signing by President Obama of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), which reauthorizes The Workforce Investment Act from 1994. While not perfect, this legislation's becoming law shows that Congress can work in a bipartisan and bicameral manner when necessary to support workforce policy. The National Fund was also present for the recent release of a White House report, "Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity," outlining findings from a review of federal workforce programs by Vice President Joe Biden. The report contains a range of recommendations to improve the accountability and effectiveness of these workforce programs.
These measures acknowledge the need to create industry partnerships that are key to providing workers and jobseekers with demand-driven training. These actions are welcomed at a time when too many low-wage workers and jobseekers struggle to pay for training that doesn't lead to a good job with a career pathway.
A growing national partnership of communities, employers, workers and philanthropy, the National Fund can attest to the power of collaborative partnerships with employers. National Fund investments in innovative and evidence-based, employer-led training and credentialing programs have been paying off for thousands of Americans since 2007, as more than 37,000 degrees and credentials have been received. National Fund-supported industry partnerships across the country are closing skills gaps -- the extent of which are a chokehold to achieving sustained economic growth.
It is instructive to show how industry partnerships can effectively strengthen local economies by closing skills gaps and putting more people back to work. A recently completed impact analysis, "Quasi-Experimental Impact Study of National Fund for Workforce Solutions/Social Innovation Fund Workforce Partnership Programs," tracked unemployed individuals who participated in three National Fund-supported programs in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Results from this study show that unemployed individuals participating in programs supported by the National Fund were more likely to obtain employment, retain jobs and earn better pay compared to similar individuals who participated in other workforce development programs during the same period. Results were tracked in three sectors:
Health care: Participants in National Fund-supported programs had 40 percent higher employment rates after one year and 58 percent higher earnings than similar individuals.
Advanced Manufacturing: National Fund-supported participants realized 40 percent higher employment rates and 42 percent higher earnings after one year.
Construction: Those participating in the construction sector training saw much smaller, but still positive, employment outcomes.
Local employers contend that new hires from industry-focused training programs make for better hires. This message has been heard loud and clear in Washington. Provisions contained in the WIOA legislation and Vice President Biden's report offer good starting points.
When done right, investing in public-private partnerships show that cross-sector collaboration between business, government and community organizations have the potential to generate deep impact in our communities by connecting unemployed and underemployed workers to career pathways that lead to family-supporting wages while increasing our economic competitiveness.
Fred Dedrick is executive director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, a growing national partnership of communities, employers, workers and philanthropy. The National Fund invests in 35 regional funder collaboratives to strengthen local economies by implementing demand-driven workforce strategies that create talent supply chains, close skill gaps and improve systems. To learn more, visit www.nfwsolutions.org.