Investing in Workforce Development Relationships to Support Future GrowthPeter Blake | Director, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
Local and state governments foster and strengthen relationships between corporations and institutions of higher education via workforce development funds in order to maintain and enhance their economies and the lives of their citizens. Governmental underwriting of these relationships supports collaborative development and refinement of education, training, and support services to meet changing workforce needs and to fill emerging or persisting skill gaps. It also creates connections that can benefit localities and communities in ways beyond economic.
A government’s best means of ensuring that its citizens possess the skills necessary to sustain its economy is to ensure that the consumers of those skills (employers) and the producers of those skills (educational/training entities) are working together to meet citizens’ needs. The best results are achieved when corporations and institutions of higher education work together with government to determine workforce development needs, goals, and priorities and to plan and implement strategies to address them. Governmental funding can get the various parties’ attention and get them to “play nice” for the common good.
Getting their attention
Institutions of higher education can help corporations understand their current and future needs. More often, corporations possess these understandings, but experience difficulty in either communicating these needs to the educational/training community or in getting them to listen. Governmental injection of workforce development funds into this dynamic can facilitate both communication and changes in educational/training programming desired by industry.
Getting them to “play nice”
Workforce development requires collaboration, and institutions of higher education often can bring together diverse constituents—particularly competitive corporations—in ways that government cannot. With collaboration comes familiarity, and with familiarity comes trust. Trust is integral to developing the partnerships necessary to create and sustain effective broad-based initiatives; be they in workforce development or any other sphere of the public good. Making such connections—not just at the organizational level, but at the people level—helps to ensure ongoing coordinated efforts to meet shared needs and achieve shared goals.
Four-year universities, two-year colleges, and career/trade schools are not only the primary providers of workforce competency and training for citizens, they are also reliable sources of objective research and expertise for government and industry. Institutions of higher education can contribute to analyses of labor markets, skill gaps, and education/training gaps that are much more comprehensive than possible by local governments, individual corporations, or industry sectors. The results are often better information, planning, and execution for better outcomes for citizens, localities, and the private sector.
For the common good
Workforce development is about preparing current, future, and displaced workers for placement/replacement and advancement in industry sectors that are or will be critical to economic development, community well-being, and individual prosperity.
It is—like government and education—about the common good. Workers are citizens; corporations are citizens. Governments exist for the good of their citizens. Educational/training entities (both public and private) exist for both the individual good and the public good. Therefore, on some level, it is natural for government, industry, and education to come together in workforce development. And on other levels, funding facilitates the process.
Individuals’ educational and skill deficiencies are reduced, and their ability to contribute positively to the economy and to the community is enhanced. Governments’ expenditures on welfare and unemployment payments/services are reduced, and their ability to retain and attract industry is enhanced. Corporations’ productivity losses and growth limitations are reduced, and their ability to expand and innovate is enhanced. When it works, government infusion of money into the workforce development relationship between corporations and higher education generates even more money for all involved. But the benefits to the common good outstrip the financial benefits and lay the groundwork for a better tomorrow.
Author Perspective: Government