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It’s (really not that) Complicated.

Over the course of my career in the workforce development field, I have often been struck by how complex the work gets, when in fact it can be distilled down to two simple concepts:

  • Offer career seekers opportunities to get trained, re-trained or placed in jobs with career pathways and livable wages
  • Assist industry in filling their talent needs

With all the rules, regulations, policies, strategic plans, data systems, multiple partners and every stakeholder imaginable, it is sometimes difficult to drill down and remember that at the core of our work is a need to listen to employers. If we let industry leaders lead us and rely on industry to know their trends, their innovations and their evolving needs, we can adjust our public workforce systems at the regional level accordingly and swiftly to meet needs of industry in real time.

Grant Associates recently surveyed a batch of employer champions across the country. We checked in with them to “take the temperature” and test to what degree their needs have changed in recent years and what new trends we could use in our own service delivery. While many responses affirmed the above statements of “keep it simple,” “be quick to assist with talent,” and “reduce unnecessary layers of regulation as much as possible,” there were also a few new insights worth delving into more deeply. This group of employers varied in size from small to large across several industries including: IT, advanced manufacturing, financial services, healthcare (including life sciences and medical devices), and transportation and logistics.

There were some big affirmations in the responses we received around the innovations and incentives the workforce system brings to the table:

  • Don’t underestimate our convening power. While industry leaders may not realize our exact role or value at the outset, any time we are able to convene industry leaders for robust and impact-driven conversation, convene our partners for better coordination and eliminate the pursuit of the same job leads, or convene ourselves to be thoughtful about our approach, the results are significant.
  • Don’t underestimate anecdotal examples in real time in addition to labor market information. Labor market information continues to evolve in sophistication and timeliness. However, in our fast-paced world, it is important to check in with employers on a regular basis about their daily top-of-mind challenges, which may become a trend in talent pipeline needs months down the road.
  • Don’t underestimate our need to deliver. Developing deep, lasting relationships with specific industries and specific employers is essential. We can’t take those for granted, which means when we are called upon by those same contacts, we must deliver. The entrepreneurial spirit of “we can figure this out” and “we will prioritize this call to action” are the basic tenets of customer service delivery that can yield great credibility and great opportunities for the career seekers we serve.

With the continued challenge of finding skilled talent and changes and advances happening within industry sectors every day, employers need us now more than ever.

It’s really not that complicated.


Marlena Sessions is a workforce development professional who has dedicated her career to creating self-sufficiency via careers for all people. She is the Vice-President for Public and Private Partnerships for Grant Associates, a national workforce development company that has operated nearly 80 different workforce programs in communities of all sizes.