Talent Isn’t a Given: Industry Leaders’ Insights on Workforce Challenges

In a recent discussion with industry leaders in the Seattle region, several experts in the fields of manufacturing, IT, healthcare and trade and logistics were asked a few deceptively simple questions, one of which was: What are your biggest workforce challenges and how are you addressing those challenges?

This high-caliber group of industry leaders expressed sentiments ahead of many when it comes to the development of the needed workforce and their willingness to hire raw talent and train and promote from within the company. Many of them were in fact favorably biased toward promotion from within and willing to invest the time and resources for employees who possess some basic “soft skills.” They were sophisticated in their knowledge of workforce development and knew that reaching young people is key to developing a talent pipeline for the future. As well, it was a happy discovery that some of them also saw the value-add of hiring Veterans for due to their strong crossover skills, work ethic and myriad other positive attributes.

The group was also self-aware and “company-aware” enough to see the challenges and weaknesses within their own corporate culture. They explained the following challenges:

  • Companies need to do more targeted outreach, education and recruitment within youth and Veteran populations, even though there is general awareness that these are verdant labor pools
  •  More proactive and equitable collaboration needed with competitors in the same industry to potentially leverage combined resources when training employees with similar job skills
  •  The need to keep pace with new positions as industries evolve; this is particularly prescient in the healthcare industry where, for example, “patient advocates” became “navigators” but now with changes in Medicare, there is a need for “something beyond navigators”
  •  Challenges within organizational culture to embrace internship programs and the soft-skill training needs those programs sometimes require
  •  While STEM education is important, the group placed nearly as much importance on the development of “soft skills” including resiliency training and change management; in business as in life, the one constant is change and these leaders see a strong need for employees who can shift gears and pivot along with the needs of the business as well as leaders who can manage their teams effectively through change

These leaders are also challenging their internal cultures to embrace more proactive diversity and equity. One leader noted that while she was happy to see more females entering her workplace, she wasn’t sure the same emphasis was being placed on other areas of diversity including age, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

To those of us in the field of workforce development, solutions like career pipeline development, sector-based training, youth internships, Veteran-focused outreach, and diversity in all its forms, seem relatively straightforward. But even with the awareness and sophistication that these leaders have, there remain challenges to implementing and scaling solutions within company cultures, as one might expect with any institutional culture shifts. All the more reason for those of us in the workforce development field to build strong partnerships with our local business communities to implement solutions that meet the needs of tomorrow’s challenges today.


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.