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If You Train Them, Will They Come?

Chris Chmura joined a distinguished panel in Washington DC on Sunday, April 14th to kick off the International Economic Development Council’s Federal Economic Development Forum. The plenary session, entitled “Workforce Development: If You Train Them, Will They Come” set the stage for a lively discussion around the importance of workforce development, the ever-changing needs of business and industries, and how the federal agenda may help shape the intersection between the two.

Big on almost everyone’s mind was the topic of the nation’s skills gaps, broadly defined as the mismatch between the skills and qualifications of the labor force and employers workforce needs. Chris’ remarks offered a unique perspective and practical advice on how economic developers can better understand and harness the power of their regional workforce (and workforce systems) to improve their economic development outcomes.

Chris shared specific examples and data supporting the need to better align economic development and workforce development strategies. She also underscored the importance of developing a deeper understanding of regional labor markets and external market forces to point to new, unexplored opportunities or mitigate risks for communities.

Other notable panelists included Jane Oates, Assistant Secretary of Employment & Training Administration, who shared her view of economic development and workforce development as synonymous—the public workforce system role is to help people connect to jobs.

Mary Jo Waits, Director at the National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices pointed out three best-practice models where businesses are successfully working together to drive change: the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Virginia, Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research, and Kentucky’s Automotive Technical Education Collaborative.

Karin Norington-Reaves, CEA of Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, spoke of the need for workforce investment boards to make a paradigm shift from social service delivery to business service delivery. She now has 7 employees in her new business relations and economic development group that are focusing on 40 occupations with the greatest needs.

Also on the panel was Peter Cappelli, with the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School. Mr Cappelli was not as confident a skills gap exists at all and called on employers to renew investment in training and skills transfer in their organizations.

The IEDC Federal Forum is an annual event providing opportunity for the economic development community to get educated and advocate for federal policies that will encourage and support economic growth. You can view Chris’s entire presentation here.

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