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Going to the moon in a Chevy November 17, 2006

Posted by Tom in Economic Development, Education, Opinion, Workforce.
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I’m fortunate to participate firsthand in the dialogue that our top decisionmakers – both inside and outside the government – are having regarding the alignment of workforce and economic development.  In fact, this week I sat in on such an open-ended discussion.  I don’t want to betray confidences in a planning process that is still under way, but I sensed a theme to our discussion that is worth sharing.

The programmatic restrictions placed our workforce funding streams are incongruous with many of the goals of an aligned system.  This is not a swipe at the federal workforce programming like the Workforce Investment Act or state programs like Indiana’s Training Acceleration Grants.  Both are fine programs that serve a valid purpose.  Problem is, I’m sensing a need to push social marketing in addition to direct training.

Case in point: The research and planning for the Northeast Indiana Strategic Skills Initiative uncovered a disconnect between many of the top employing industries in the region and the career aspirations of the emerging workforce.  For evidence of this, take a look at this excerpt from one of our larger SSI reports. 

While health care workers are clearly in demand and the emerging workforce understands this fact, the other top industries in the region – specifically, manufacturing and transportation/logistics – are among the least attractive to our students.  At the same time, we understand that ITT Technical Institute’s local criminal justice program is booming – presumedly because they are advertising criminal forensics courses during CBS‘s many CSI programs (Las Vegas, Miami, New York).  ITT understands the social marketing element of workforce development, and they surely will generate many, many more forensic pathologists than our market needs.  But the work looks cool and is glorified by Hollywood, so kids go for it.  This isn’t a new trend; many of the same trends were in place with legal careers when LA Law was at its peak, and with health care careers during the period of ER/Chicago Hope ratings dominance.

Thus it makes sense to fight fire with fire.  We need to use marketing techniques to promote real-world careers to our emerging workforce, emphasizing the challenge, career potential and income opportunities inherent in these mainline career paths.  But our funding streams largely fund training programs for the incumbent workforce…not the promotion of the careers and training options to those who are looking to make meaningful life choices and can often pay for their training once they choose a career path (meaning that they don’t need government-subsidized training programs).  Do you see the disconnect?

Life at the bleeding edge of workforce development – where we’re working tirelessly to align our efforts with the goals of our economic development partners – is often an excerise in frustration.  We’re trying to put square pegs into round holes.  Or trying to figure out a way to send man to the moon in a Chevy.  Our tools are not aligned with the needs of the times.  It will be interesting to see how this theme develops over time.

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