Developing and nurturing a thriving workforce isn’t easy. It is a team sport that requires participation from all walks of the community. This is the story of how one community in northeast Ohio chose to tackle the widening gap between the demand and supply of local talent. An approach called Sector Partnerships is used to facilitate the community to develop content and solutions that change the hearts, minds, and behaviors of local leaders.
Does any of this sound familiar?
- You have a hard time finding qualified talent.
- Training is time-consuming and costly.
- You want to accelerate hiring by partnering with others such as career centers, K-16 education, Chambers of Commerce, and the Workforce Development Board, but find it overwhelming and complex.
- You see community-wide opportunity to change the system for better, but it’s hard to start and maintain.
This was the situation that many in northeast Ohio’s Cuyahoga County found itself in three years ago. Leaders in the community sought a new way to boost the supply of qualified talent while also providing residents with greater access to careers with family sustaining wages.
STEP 1: Assess the need. First, committed leaders came together with an eye toward understanding the problem. We heard employers could not find the talent they needed, and residents could not access careers with family sustaining wages. A closer look at the numbers revealed the demand for talent in the top three sectors, approximately 60,000 jobs, was about four times the number of incoming credentialed candidates, around 15,000 jobs. Shared experience and the data helped align these leaders on their understanding of the problem and a sense of what future success would look like.
STEP 2: Get started. A founding group of leaders from the county, city, our Chamber of Commerce, the regional economic development office, and six philanthropic foundations became the Workforce Funders Group. This group assembled a team and resources, which included:
- A workforce consultant to help frame the need and a set of recommendations
- A strategy consultant (that’s me) to facilitate the founding group, manage the project, build the team
- A communications firm to help update the community and inform strategic decisions such as branding
- A board chair to lead and be the primary face to the community
- Funds raised from multiple sources
STEP 3: Choose an approach After assessing the local landscape to understand the challenge, and then looking outside for examples of best practice, the team decided to pursue sector partnerships as a strategy. You may have heard the term, “sector partnership,” before—in fact, we use it frequently right here in Northeast Ohio, often with different intent. Here is our definition:
“Sector Partnership: A dynamic collaboration of a regional group of employers, typically from a particular industry sector or sub-sector, who convene regularly with relevant providers of education, training, and other support services, and with the support of an intermediary, focus on strategies for responding to their common workforce issues and needs”
The team then developed six selection criteria to choose the priority sectors:
- Big part of the economy. The sector should represent a significant number of jobs
- Family sustaining wages. A significant number of jobs within the sector should provide family sustaining wages.
- Career paths. A significant number of jobs within the sector can be mapped into a career pathway.
- Multiplier effect. For every direct job that is created, other jobs also are created.
- Traded sectors. The sector should have exports, as these are primary drivers of economic growth.
- Supply-demand gap. The sector has demand for capable workers that exceeds supply
This search surfaced three prioritized sectors: manufacturing, healthcare, and IT.
In each sector partnership, employers and supply side providers (think trainers and government) are facilitated by an intermediary. Together, they work on naming problems, forming action teams, and identifying solutions. Here are the specific activities within one partnership, Workforce Connect Manufacturing:
Develop inspiring content: Create and disseminate the career path visualizations, success stories, and engagement activities that will help influencers pull interested students and adults into manufacturing career paths.
Map the process: Understand and document the path for prospective students, through training/education, to post-placement. Educate manufacturers on how to best engage with training/education partners to recruit, engage, and place students.
Instructor bench strength: Identify and recruit potential instructors for manufacturing programs to ensure the capacity we will need to scale.
Cross-sector partnership: Design and develop a holistically beneficial system to help interested individuals transition from front-line roles in fast food, hospitality, etc., through training, into manufacturing career-paths.
Develop innovative, population-specific on-ramps: Develop inspiring on-ramps into manufacturing for populations historically under-represented. The initial focus is on women, African-Americans, and the re-entry population.
Three sector partnerships have been launched with three intermediaries. Many benefits have emerged from the process, including:
- Employers and supply side partners are now regularly in the room together, improving efficiency, understanding, and transparency.
- Innovative pilots have identified valuable ideas, such as tools that make it easier to hire workers from non-traditional backgrounds.
These are still early days. Certainly, questions do remain, including overall impact and the financial sustainability of the program. What I love most is that colleagues are coming together—in some cases, for the first time—to experiment, occasionally fail, and succeed together. By participating, everyone involved now has an even greater stake in the success of our community. That’s a win in my book.
Caroline Taich is the president and founder of Kirtland Consulting LLC, a management consulting firm that provides strategy, facilitation, and implementation services. For more information, visit: www.kirtlandconsulting.com.