Cities groom talent for private sector
When a Chicago-based manufacturer of sprinkler pipe and conduit needed to hire 50 employees for a new third shift, it turned to Chicago’s Workforce Center for Manufacturing (ManufacturingWorks). The center is operated by the Chicago Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development (MOWD), which is one of the nation’s largest Local Workforce Investment Areas (LWIAs), and is funded through the federal Workforce Investment Act. In several cities, similar programs are working with businesses and other stakeholders to create a better-trained, globally competitive workforce.
Traditionally, publicly funded workforce development efforts concentrated on serving job seekers and did not consider local economic climates or employers’ needs. However, in the last decade, LWIAs and workforce development organizations have concentrated on shoring up critical skill shortages in new and existing fields. To do that, LWIAs bring together industry leaders, businesses, and educational and training institutions to develop worker training programs specifically for their needs.
ManufacturingWorks is one of the nation’s first publicly funded sectoral workforce centers. It offers free services — such as workforce assessments, business consulting, access to market information, and workshops — to promote greater efficiencies in manufacturing companies. It also will screen and qualify job applicants for employment in manufacturing industries, and train incumbent workers to move up as supervisors.
In the case of the sprinkler pipe and conduit manufacturer, advertisements in local papers yielded plenty of applicants, but most had little manufacturing experience. ManufacturingWorks found qualified applicants with manufacturing experience or transferable skills, and the company hired 40 of them.
LWIAs cater services to the needs of industries in their areas. The Lancaster County, Pa., Investment Board has discovered a high demand for employees with advanced training — but not necessarily college degrees — in the health, biotech, agriculture, food processing, metal fabricating, communications, construction, building supplies and automotive industries. “We need electricians, industrial maintenance mechanics, IT programmers, truck drivers, book keepers,” says Scott Sheely, executive director of the Lancaster County Workforce Investment Board.
The region is home to several candy manufacturers, so the investment board brought together several companies, including Hershey’s and Mars, to encourage them “to begin thinking, not in terms of competition, but about cultivating a pool of skilled workers throughout the partnership,” Sheely says. Lancaster also began developing ways to supplement and cut training costs for manufacturers, and worked with human resources directors to develop training for incumbent workers.
Job seekers who participated in Lancaster’s programs saw a 12 to 15 percent wage gain over the last two years, Sheely says. “[Also], employers are getting a better qualified person [as an employee],” he says.
Because Chicago’s MOWD has been successful in helping manufacturers find skilled and qualified job candidates, it now is targeting other industries around the city, including hospitality, health care and transportation. “This [approach] changes the paradigm of workforce development from serving the job seeker, who may not know where the need for skilled labor exists, to working with business to determine their workforce needs,” says David Hanson, MOWD Commissioner. “This demand-driven system produces a skilled worker who can actually help employers compete for new business. It also yields career ladders, not just jobs.”
— Susan DeGrane is the public information coordinator for the Chicago Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development.