Public-Private Partnerships Gain Ground in Workforce Planning, Development

April 12, 2018 | MaryFran Heinsch | HCI
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Photo: Getty Images

In our research at HCI, we routinely find that most organizations are coping with constant change.

Our March, 2018 Talent Pulse Research shows that Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP) is key in adapting to this change, but businesses are finding that these plans often need to grow beyond their organizations and into the communities around them. As businesses forecast their talent supply and the skills needed for emerging roles, many find they must broaden their search for talent to keep pace with change.

WEBCAST: Talent Pulse 5.2: Bridging the Skills Gap with Public and Private Partnerships​

But what if the right talent isn’t available to fill business needs? To help grow the skills needed for evolving roles, workforce development programs are working more closely with businesses to close the gap between industry needs and the existing skills of the workforce. We are studying this topic further in a new research survey.

To learn about some of the new ways in which workforce development programs are meeting the needs of businesses, HCI spoke with Paul Holba, the Director of Talent Workforce Development for One Southern Indiana, a regional Chamber of Commerce. 

It seems like public–private partnerships that connect the strategic workforce plan of businesses with regional workforce development priorities are growing in importance. What’s your take?

PAUL: I think it is a relatively new thing that’s growing in importance. My role is only a year old. The state of Kentucky hired a statewide workforce development professional right after me, and the state of Indiana just recently hired one. These states know, from an economic standpoint, that if they don't have the talented workforce to support businesses either expanding or relocating to their state, that they're not going to win those businesses and all the benefits they can bring. Not just the jobs, but the families that follow, the services that they'll purchase, the other businesses they'll support.

What do some of these partnerships look like? Who do you end up working with?

PAUL: It almost depends on the day. One of the things I’m working on right now is a grant from the State of Indiana to expand manufacturing apprenticeships in my region. Building a solid apprenticeship program is a tool that is also building our workforce. It's helping companies train their folks, as well as establish a career path within their company. When I encourage organizations to buy in to this apprenticeship program, adopt it, get it running, then they will begin to promote internally to hold on to these people. 

There are so many stakeholders and moving parts in this process. What are some of the challenges you face in coordinating these efforts?

PAUL: It turns out that some of the barriers and the struggles we have involve radically changing how school itself works these days. School is no longer about giving students a general overview of all the disciplines. Instead, you have to start helping them decide what it is they want to go into for their future line of work.

Students in their junior or even sophomore year can be counseled on their options, and if they want to be an electrical technician or go into engineering, the school can show them that we have these apprenticeship programs available. Some of them are even dual credit, so that once you're done with high school you have the option of going right to work and start earning money. This can also help them not to take on additional debt if they go on to college. We have a number of companies that will hire you and pay for your additional schooling. You're essentially bypassing tuition costs and in the end, the company has an employee that will likely stay with them for an extended period of time.

For companies who work with these students, one of the benefits to them is that they get a working interview. They can see whether this person has the work ethic they want. Are they a go-getter? Are they motivated? Is this somebody we want to retain? The benefit to the student is that if they’re hired full time, then maybe our tuition reimbursement will cover half your cost of you going to school while you're working for the company.

How is the state setting priorities for workforce development? Are they in sync with the needs of businesses?

PAUL: I think there's a couple of different things going on at the state level. One of the first things policy makers look at is who's here already. What is the state of the workforce in terms of age? And what are the needs of this workforce going to be in the next five to 15 years? In my region, a six-county area, they're projecting as many as 120,000 job openings, and that's with no additional business moving to the area. That’s really daunting when you think about filling that need. So, the next step in setting priorities at the regional level is to identify the number of graduates, or certifications or degrees to cover these jobs. With this information, it’s possible to work with the schools to identify future needs and if they choose, tailor their offerings to meet these needs.

My job is to try and meet with the businesses to let them know what the state's got on their radar and that we know it’s going to impact them. We let them know that there are schools that want to serve them, but that they need input from them. Not just about the skills they’re looking for, but they also need you to come into the classroom and help talk to these students because the teachers don't necessarily know what goes on in your business.

We can get students placed with businesses in the summertime to do a job shadowing or an externship. But the schools need you, as a business owner or plant manager or department supervisor, to come in and say, “Here's what we do; here's what you can expect; here's what we're looking for.”

This is their opportunity to help educate these kids.

How do your efforts plug into strategic workforce planning efforts at the organization with whom you work? Can businesses rely regional workforce development plans to solve their needs?

PAUL: Workforce development priorities that are set at the state level can change and that makes things complicated.

The pace of government is different than the pace of business. Government isn't agile. This can create challenges because we tend to think of regional workforce development in terms of the supply chain analogy where the businesses are our customer. I like this analogy because I can go to the businesses I'm working with and say to them, “You know, if you had an issue with any one of your key suppliers, you would drop everything to resolve that.”

“Your people should be thought of in the same way. If you're hiring the wrong people because you're in a rush, and you don't have a good culture, and your turnover is bad, what's your end-user going to think when every other delivery is not the same? You know, inconsistency is going to kill you. Workforce development can help.”