Making the Most of Government-Sponsored Training Initiatives

By Debra Lyons

Feb. 24, 2010

Businesses, corporations and manufacturers across the country do not have to weather the current economic storm alone. State governments want to help them succeed and have tools in place to make this goal possible.

One of the most significant ways that government can help businesses is through workforce development. Although companies may not currently be hiring, they do need to prepare for future expansions or provide additional training to existing staff to increase productivity and keep workers working even in a difficult economy. Workforce development programs are one way for government agencies to provide assistance in these efforts.

Several states have created employment-related programs, with the help of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, to increase the number of viable candidates among the unemployed and to ensure companies have the talent they need to remain competitive now and build a skilled workforce in the future.

As an example of how this funding can be used, let me describe to what’s happening here in Georgia, where Gov. Sonny Perdue created the Be Work Ready campaign to build upon the success of the Georgia Work Ready initiative. The Be Work Ready campaign encourages job seekers to not only earn a Work Ready certificate, based on the score of the WorkKeys job skills assessment, which is similar to the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate, but also to improve their skills through gap training.

Georgia’s Work Ready initiative is based on skills assessment, certification and skills-gap training for job seekers, as well as a job-profiling system for businesses. All of these services are provided free of charge. Job seekers may also complete a work habits assessment to help them identify soft-skills strengths and weaknesses. Individuals may improve by accessing skills-gap training software that is available at no cost.

States that want to strengthen their workforces look for services they can provide to businesses at no cost to them, beyond their time. Recipient businesses may be required to complete grant applications or meet other specific qualifications.

To make the most of government support, companies should:

• Contact their state or local workforce investment boards to find out about initiatives or grants that may be applicable to them.

• Contact the economic development offices at area technical colleges to discuss training opportunities, job profiling capabilities and recruitment programs.

• Reach out to area high school and college students for employment opportunities, mentoring and performance coaching.

• Seek out opportunities to partner with other companies in related industries to create joint training programs with assistance from state or local government agencies.

Government-sponsored initiatives save companies money in training costs, but more important, they increase revenue through increased productivity, increased employee morale and decreased employee turnover.

Workforce investments

The federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998 offers a comprehensive range of workforce development activities through state and local organizations. The goal of any government workforce development program is to train the emerging and current workforces to drive economic development, increased career advancement opportunities and improved quality of life. Companies, meanwhile, realize reduced employee turnover and better productivity and profitability.

The governors can use Workforce Investment Act funding for projects contained in their comprehensive workforce plans, which are approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. For example, the Georgia Work Ready initiative was created by Gov. Perdue to identify both the needs of businesses and the available skills of Georgia’s workforce, making it possible to achieve a more effective match of the right talent to the right jobs. The initiative is a part of the state’s approved Workforce Investment Act plan.

Employers that have implemented workforce assessment tools that measure core skills and work habits find they need to interview fewer candidates to find the right person for a job. According to a 2008 survey sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development here in Georgia, businesses participating in the Georgia Work Ready initiative overwhelmingly said they would recommend Work Ready to their peers. Nearly eight in 10 leaders of participating businesses responded that Work Ready helped them find higher-quality employees. About half the companies said it saved them money in training costs.

Businesses of any size can take advantage of initiatives like Georgia Work Ready to improve their hiring processes. Larger companies should have a completed job profile—an outline of the skills needed for success and the required skill level for a position— before listing a certificate level as a part of its hiring criteria. But smaller companies can use occupational profiles and note that they prefer job candidates complete the assessment as part of the job application process. Georgia, for example, has more than 38 job profilers authorized by ACT, an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides assessment, research, information and program management solutions in the areas of education and workforce development. These profilers, who are employees of technical colleges throughout the state, provide a comprehensive and confidential job profile report that meets EEOC requirements.

Educational outreach

Businesses can start reaching out to students as early as high school, so teens can start their journey down a career pathway. In many states, high school students can participate in dual-enrollment programs to earn postsecondary credits or certificates so they will be better prepared when they enter the working world.

Businesses that partner with educational institutions have the opportunity to guide development of career pathways so they align with current and future occupational opportunities. Reaching out to high school students is especially important for emerging industries such as bioscience and energy, since students might not know these opportunities exist in the area.

Educational outreach is not limited to high school and college students. Engaging unemployed and transitioning workers who seek new skills is a goal for both educators and workforce development organizations. In addition, technical colleges can become strategic partners with local businesses for most training-related issues for existing employees.

New, existing or expanding businesses that meet certain qualifications can take advantage of no-cost customizable training for employees. For example, Georgia’s Quick Start job training program helped reinforce quality control at Engineered Fabrics Corp. in the city of Rockmart. The education program stresses bolt-threading quality checks on the fabric fuel tanks that the company manufactures for Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, the $40 million aerial tanker that refuels military aircrafts in midair.

Many businesses can also receive tax credits that fund basic skills education for employees to enhance reading, writing or mathematical skills, up to and including the 12th-grade level.

As part of Georgia Work Ready, technical colleges provide participating businesses with job profiles. These profiles give companies a thorough understanding of the skills needed for each position, a roadmap for developing training programs and airtight hiring criteria to ensure they find the best talent for their specific needs.

Traditionally, companies that meet minimum hiring criteria or use Work Ready Certificates as a part of their training program qualified for no-cost job profiles. In the down economy, however, more businesses can profile their positions to develop the current workforce, improve productivity and keep Georgians employed.

Industry partnerships

State government assistance can take another form: creating and supporting alliances among businesses in the same or similar industries to create shared workforce development opportunities.

Companies in related business lines or industry clusters tend to have locations near one another and need employees with similar skills. The network of Korean automotive suppliers surrounding the newest Kia Motor Corp. plant in rural West Point, Georgia, is the perfect example of this trend.

In order to sustain, grow and attract these industry clusters, state governments can foster cooperation among businesses, educational providers, local governments, chambers of commerce and civic groups.

As part of Georgia Work Ready, the state created Work Ready Regions, a collaborative development team in a multicounty area headed by an industry leader and guided by the region’s existing industry to align education, workforce development and training to meet the needs of the businesses operating in the shared industry. The state has 16 regions in bioscience, energy, advanced manufacturing, aerospace and logistics, with more to come in the future through a competitive grant process.

The Chattahoochee Valley Aerospace Work Ready Region, for example, targets both future and existing workers to prepare them for careers in the emerging aerospace industry in western Georgia. As the home of Precision Component International, Cessna Aircraft Co., Pratt & Whitney and Fort Benning, a U.S. Army base with a population of more than 100,000, the region needs a highly skilled labor force to support its aerospace parts manufacturing and maintenance companies.

The region encourages high school, technical college and university students to pursue educational opportunities and career paths in the aerospace industry. It offers specialized advanced manufacturing, dual enrollment and co-op programs for students, thanks to the sustained partnerships among the region’s manufacturers and school districts.

The region also works with existing workers in transition—unemployed individuals, military veterans entering the workforce and employees whose previous employers have moved offshore and are looking for a career change—to help them leverage their current skills and gain the additional training to meet the evolving technology needs of the aerospace industry. Training efforts include utilizing best practices in advanced manufacturing, programs in corporate readiness for transitioning military personnel, mentoring and performance coaching.

By seeking out similar initiatives and partnerships with local governments, educational institutions and other organizations, companies throughout the country can actively strengthen their communities’ workforce infrastructure and pro-business environment—just as Georgia is doing.

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