01/23/2013 09:22 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

A Solution for 'Help Wanted': Partnering With Employers

It's a sad truth: More than 20 million Americans are looking for full-time work. The major reason is that the U.S. economy is not creating enough jobs to give everyone an opportunity to find a career where they can support their family. America needs greater investments in job creation. But there are also many jobs available now where employers maintain that they cannot find individuals with the appropriate skills that make them a good candidate to hire.

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions and its partners -- in working with employers from all over the United States -- recognized this problem early on and organized innovative strategies to address the nation's workforce development issues. These strategies are based on the National Fund's belief that closing the skills gap and helping under- and unemployed workers must be accomplished at the local level -- community by community. Since 2007, the National Fund has transformed how such individuals acquire in-demand skills through partnering with regional employers in key industry sectors.

How does this work? The National Fund, with the support of its implementation partner, Jobs for the Future, strategically invests in regional workforce funding collaboratives, currently in 30 communities nationwide. These collaboratives, in turn, identify and support workforce partnerships in target communities that serve the needs of low-income workers.

In addition, these collaboratives use an integrated approach that deeply engages employers in training their front-line workers, and expands education and training services in high-growth industries. As a result, more than 3,000 employers have been involved in more than 100 workforce partnerships that create training programs and career pathways for low-wage workers.

These programs are designed and delivered with community-based organizations, workforce investment boards, and educational organizations, including community colleges, post-secondary institutions and training providers. At the same time, the regional funding collaboratives use the learning from the workforce partnerships to promote improvements in business practices and public policies that result in better career opportunities for low-skilled workers.

The impact of the National Fund's work demonstrates the transformative nature of its unique social investment strategy. Over the past five years, the National Fund and its regional partners have served more than 30,000 people with career development services and training programs. As of 2011, training participants earned 18,143 credentials. Further, despite a challenging economy, more than 7,600 people who were unemployed before receiving training have been placed in jobs. Thirty percent of these new employees received wages of greater than $15 per hour, enabling them to earn salaries with which they were better able to support their families.

These successes have proven that the National Fund's investments have dramatically improved career advancement outcomes for low-income adults. The National Fund has used its funding to leverage matching funds from 432 public, private, and philanthropic donors. In addition, the federal government has recognized its efforts through a Social Innovation Fund grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The National Fund's work is critically important in today's economic climate where so many families are struggling. The "JobRaising" competition with its CrowdRise component is helping to support its on-the-ground efforts to fill existing jobs with skilled workers. These efforts enhance the National Fund's capacity to provide local collaboratives with technical assistance, peer-learning opportunities, and industry- or issue-specific knowledge that promotes long-term sustainability. By intensifying engagement with its diverse group of shareholders, the National Fund can better respond to employers' skill needs and get low-wage workers the credentials they need to succeed in their careers.

Fred Dedrick is the executive director of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. Operating in 30 communities nationwide, the National Fund addresses a community's critical workforce challenges by developing a thorough understanding of the skills employers need and then providing low-income workers with these employer-defined skills in order to obtain and advance family-supporting careers.