For More Organizations, Workforce Planning Includes Regional Workforce Development.

June 6, 2018 | MaryFran Heinsch | HCI
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Organizations plan their workforce to keep pace with the emerging needs of the marketplace, evolving business objectives, and changing roles. But even the most organized planning efforts can’t resolve widening gaps between the skills necessary for new roles and the capabilities of existing talent. Internal learning and development programs can help, but in many industries, these are not enough to cover an organization’s needs. In response, organizations are searching for fresh alternatives for getting the right talent into the right roles at the right time.

For some, this has meant playing a larger role in regional workforce development initiatives. By supporting and advising educators and policy makers, businesses inform new approaches to growing the talent needed to fill future roles.

We’ve explored this topic thoroughly in our most recent Talent Pulse report, Bridging the Skills Gap with Workforce Development Strategies. As part of our research, we spoke with Ken Stuckey, the Director of Talent Acquisition and Development at Pace Industries, to learn about his experiences at the intersection of strategic workforce planning and workforce development.


Tell us how strategic workforce planning meets regional workforce development at your organization.

KEN: We determined roughly four years ago that we were going to have to start really looking at our workforce planning challenges in a different way.  We didn't want to continue to feel like we were just reacting to everything that was going on around us. We determined that a supply chain approach could help us do a better job of workforce planning.

In our supply chain, we let our trainers and the colleges around our companies know which skills are going to have to be present in our people for us to grow our business. We ask them if they can develop curriculum to help us meet our needs. The two-year colleges can then produce a group of students who are able not only to go to work for us, but probably any other manufacturer in the area. In this way, we can start looking for those outlets of training and workforce development that are available to us.

How are these efforts coordinated at your organization?

KEN: Our workforce development efforts are integrated into what we call SD, strategic deployment. It’s a way of holding all of us accountable to do what we say we're going to do. As part of a quarterly review, we put on paper our goals for the following year for our workforce development at every location. And then we're able to assign stakeholders at each location as to who's going to be responsible for making sure that our workforce is thriving and to ensure that we're doing all we can do to manage it and grow it. Each location’s progress on those goals becomes a part of a reporting process. It's owned by someone, and it's reported quarterly as to how they're doing.  If you are not hitting the goals, you address the challenge during the meeting and how you are going to get back on track. 

You need key people to have a seat at the table for this work. Talent development, talent acquisition and sourcing, workforce development, we all work alongside our operations people. In other words, everyone in the company has to be aware of what we're doing and what we need. And there's just no reason for working inside a silo with your work anymore, because you can't. You have to let people know what is needed from each group so that we can understand what we need to do for workforce development.  

How is workforce development playing a larger role in your organization?

KEN: I think we're going to begin seeing more strategic workforce coordinators as positions in HR. You can't just think people are going to roll into your organization because you do a great job of branding. It's going to have to involve aggressive outreach. A couple of years ago I recognized the need to hire a workforce coordinator.  This position is one that requires being out in our communities surrounding our plants and in those colleges, high schools and junior highs communicating our great career opportunities to students and teachers.  We talk about how, if four years of college might not be for you, here's some options to begin a career and to make money right out of high school. And so, this workforce coordinator position that we created has been very successful in coordinating schools who want to partner with us in our workforce endeavors. They realize we're really committed to it because we have a designated role for a workforce person.

We’ve also placed Pace Ambassadors at each of our locations. These are young people that have come into the company, maybe out of a two-year college situation or possibly right out of high school, but they have made their way through the company and made significant career moves with us. They’ve become very valuable to us in what they do and what they know. We put them in front of people in the communities, and at the schools and wherever else we can get them in to speak.  Our message is that here is somebody that said, I'm going to go for it and take the career path that Pace offered me. I did it, and you can do it too.

There are other moving parts to this too. I'm the chairman of the Manufacturing Alliance in our state along with the association of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.  A big part of this role is getting educational partners, state agencies, federal agencies, the state workforce boards, the workforce service centers to work together on workforce education.  We will have far more success working together than working alone. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and I have pulled together about 25 companies in Arkansas so that we speak with one voice to the governor’s workforce board about what our needs are. This way, we're not all banging on the Governor’s door as individuals, but we're saying, this is where we could really use the government's help. When there are opportunities for state funding for workforce development initiatives then we're on top of that. There's a lot going on in Arkansas and tremendous momentum which I’m very excited about.

How have regional workforce development policies impacted your organization?

KEN: Right now, there's a huge national policy emphasis on apprenticeships. We're working to make sure that we can host apprenticeships in all our locations that are approved by the Department of Labor. It's a challenge, but we see that mentoring, internships, and apprenticeships are a significant way to get our workforce up to speed as quickly as we can and creates an excellent talent pool for us. And all this really seems to ring true with people. I think they appreciate the kind of attention that they get when they're in an internship or an apprenticeship, because they realize it's going to make their lives better.

We’ve got a long way to go. We certainly haven't figured it all out. We recognize the competition for good people is only going to get more challenging, however I think the better we get at connecting with our local communities and state and federal agencies, the better we're able to keep our workforce moving in the right direction.

To learn more, read the full research report. You can also watch the research webcast to see HCI’s research team discuss the results and hear perspectives on the issue from Janice Urbanik, Senior Director, National Fund for Workforce Solutions.