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Navigating Workforce Evolution: Initiatives, Trends, and the Role of Economic Developers

By RDG Principal Ellie Dunavant

Today’s economic landscape is evolving rapidly, demanding innovative solutions from economic developers nationwide. As industries transform and new technologies emerge, the demand for skills often outpaces the availability of a qualified workforce. At the same time, a significant need for entry-level workers adds a layer of complexity. Effectively addressing both sides of the labor equation is crucial, prompting a critical examination of current workforce development initiatives. Are they hitting the mark or are the efforts fragmented? Economic developers have been strategically deploying initiatives that have proven successful in bridging these gaps. A notable shift towards industry-specific training initiatives can advance the progress to achieving full employment. Brookings recently dissected if workforce development is really the key to hitting that mark.

Current workforce development efforts fall into four main categories: higher education programs, pre-employment training/workforce services, career and technical education (CTE) pathways, and work-based learning through apprenticeships and internships. A trend toward more work-based learning programs appears to be emerging, along with CTE programs, after proving successful both in interest and effectiveness.

A noticeable shift towards sector-specific training is gaining traction. This model brings together high-demand, high-wage industries and training providers to generate skilled workers. The Cherokee Office of Economic Development exemplifies this, acting as the convener between students, training opportunities, and employers through their initiative, Be Pro Be Proud Georgia. The program is entering its third year and is leading the movement to bring a new generation of pride, progress and professionals to Georgia’s skilled workforce, reaching more than 45,000 students in just three years. The program is currently operating in six states.

In another effort to bolster the pipeline of qualified workers, the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development recently launched TechLink. The program is designed to bridge the gap between regional employers and higher education graduates. The platform highlights entry-level technology jobs within the region in hopes that graduates will begin their careers in central Virginia.

Signing days for skilled professions are gaining traction in both popularity and frequency. The Moore County Chamber of Commerce is one of many that now celebrates their high school graduates who have committed to a technical education, an immediate career, or a military career pathway. The chamber hosted three Career Technical Education Signing Days last May. This event not only honors graduates but also cultivates awareness and insight into career options among younger students in the community.

Taking a holistic approach, the Greater Memphis Chamber recently announced its plans to open a $15 million, 104,000-square-foot workforce development training facility. The new facility is expected to help countless workers gain certification and training through accredited programs. The chamber believes the key to upskilling their region’s workforce is getting all resources under one roof.

As we navigate the evolving economic landscape, addressing workforce gaps for sustainable growth in our communities cannot be overstated. Economic developers across the country are at the forefront of this challenge. Leaders must strategically launch initiatives while playing a pivotal role as conveners in their communities. Uniquely positioned to bring governmental representatives, employers, and education stakeholders together, Economic Development Organizations are demonstrating their commitment to upskilling our workforce.

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