Monday, September 24, 2012

Workforce Development - Where To From Here?

The gap is widening quickly
During the mid-seventies I worked with the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act  (CETA) program, first as a client in community education and later as a staff counselor.

CETA was a federally funded jobs program and predecessor to the current Workforce Investment Act (WIA) program. The goal was to create and provide kick-start funding for public service jobs in schools, local, county and state government.

For the most part, the program (at least in my little corner of the world) worked well. Employers interviewed and hired from a pool of applicants provided by CETA. Funding for the positions typically lasted one year during which the client/employee worked and trained in the new position, hoping to be retained at the end of the funding period.

In some cases the job and employee were added by the government entity, which meant the job development objective of the program was achieved. In other cases the position was not added but the client was kept via transfer or hiring to a position already in existence. In either case the result was positive for the client/employee.

Of course this all took place in a pre-digital, much slower paced time. The new positions were employer based and funded. CETA clients were matched to them, not the other way around. Clients knew they had enough time to show the employer what they had to offer and so did the employers. Heads-up and creative managers found ways to retain client/employees that were providing solid service and value.

It's all very different now. The public service sector is still cutting back. Employers of all types have reduced labor as a way to profitability. Jobless recoveries and lingering unemployment are becoming facts of life. More and more workers are engaged in temporary or contract employment.

The average tenure at a company is now just under 4.5 years. This means nearly all workers, like it or not, need to be on continuous job search. They must also be adaptable to an ever changing employment marketplace. Not everyone gets this. Not everyone can pull it off. The gap between the employment haves (higher skills / higher pay) and the have-nots (lower skills / lower pay) is widening very quickly.

In this market and even more so going forward, being a Free Agent job seeker is not just a concept, but a reality. The economic crosswinds are strong and ever changing. Employers complain of a lack of highly skilled/right skilled workers yet can't stop long enough to explain exactly what they mean. Unemployed workers aren't sure what skills are in demand or how to market the skills they do possess.

Funding is skimpy for any type of workforce program, especially those modeled on marketplace realities no longer in existence. Programs like CETA and WIA are relics of the past. New programs will be required but there's little consensus on what they should look like. Business (first mover) isn't waiting around and government (last mover) has little choice but to downsize.

In the meantime, the middle-class shrinks as do real wages and benefits.

Buckle up, its going to get worse.

Travel well.
John Jeffrey Lundell

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