This article was first published by General Assembly.
As a new year begins and the pandemic wears on, the U.S. is grappling with the latest incarnation of an increasingly familiar paradox: millions of open positions but not enough talent to fill those roles. The many complex forces driving this new normal include the accelerating integration of technology into all facets of the enterprise; a wave of resignations and retirements; shifting policies and priorities around remote work; and a mass rejection of jobs that do not provide a living wage, health care benefits, and other quality of life supports core to the vision of the “new social contract.”
Against the backdrop of a changing labour market, this may be a case in which a time of crisis also presents an opportunity for substantive change. Over the past two years, we have participated in a growing number of regional reskilling efforts led by coalitions of employers, elected officials, workforce leaders, traditional higher education institutions, and non-profits to co-create pathways into skilled jobs for workers displaced by COVID-19.
The underlying principle behind these initiatives was that no one entity could solve a once-in-a-generation economic crisis alone. By bringing together training providers, business leaders, and public-sector organizations, these community reskilling initiatives are tapping into the unique strengths of each partner to build a regional workforce infrastructure that is more resilient, more equitable, and more future-proof than before the pandemic.
We’ve found over the past two years that these sorts of partnerships have transformative potential for how employers, public workforce organizations, and learners interact at a regional level. The opportunities for job-seekers are, in some ways, the most profound: by providing wraparound support and proactive career guidance, as well as direct connections to local employers in search of digital talent, community reskilling efforts represent a new — and, we hope, more effective — way to connect individuals with job opportunities.
In a new white paper released this month, we dive into case studies in three regions in the U.S. — Sacramento, Louisville, and Buffalo — to share the best of what we’ve learned through these efforts to help local and regional leaders across the country navigate their community reskilling efforts. Here’s some of what we’ve learned through our work with these communities:
- Employer leadership matters… The effectiveness of community reskilling programs depends, first and foremost, on the existence of a destination at the end of the journey. In our community reskilling work, employer partners are not supporting reskilling programs as an act of charity. They’re making specific, strategically driven investments in partnerships that help them strengthen their talent pipelines and enable them to compete in an increasingly dynamic economy. In each case study, a linchpin employer partner — Humana, M&T Bank, Microsoft — played a critical role in spearheading and supporting the project.
- …and so do sourcing partners. Community reskilling cannot take an “if you build it, they will come” approach by standing up a flashy program and hoping for the best. The most effective initiatives engage early and deeply with existing organizations that work with the populations they hope to serve and are trusted locally.
The core tenet of community reskilling is that no organization can, or should, go it alone. It takes a set of partners with a common goal to achieve impact. Successful programs depend on the coordination of many different players and the complex management of relationships and objectives that any such coalition entails. That’s where leadership, both public and private, must come into play.
In the months to come, the U.S. federal government should galvanize these efforts with investment in economic recovery efforts, such as those proposed in the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better agenda. American employers have a leadership role to play as well, as engines of funding and strategic guidance that can help motivate their public-sector partners. While community reskilling programs ultimately depend on the contributions of many organizations, they often rely on the passion and commitment of one group that helps the others align towards a shared mission.
We hope this whitepaper can serve as the beginning of an ongoing conversation about the role of new partnerships and community-based collaboration in meeting an ever-changing labour market and preparing workers and job-seekers alike for an increasingly uncertain and volatile future of work. To download and read the full paper, click here.