APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY
The four national organizations launching Business Leaders United want to expand the number of employers participating in their sponsored workforce training partnerships, and in addition create a new platform whereby local business leaders can participate in discussions about a national skills strategy informed by these successful partnership strategies. These organizations have worked with a range of different employers. Some are subsidiaries of Fortune 500 corporations partnering with local community organizations or community colleges. Others are small- and medium-sized employers who have been organized on an industry or sector basis, to identify common skill needs which can then be aggregated through local workforce investment boards and various education and training providers. In almost all cases, these partnerships have been developed with the support of a public or non-profit workforce intermediary organization that can convene firms and local stakeholders in a collaborative strategy that addresses the skill needs both of local employers and local residents. The specific means used to engage partner businesses vary across these networks, depending upon the size of the firms involved, the nature of their respective industries, and the particular communities in which they are attempting to develop newly skilled workers. Activities can include analysis of current and future industry skill needs; identification of industry-recognized credentials that firms agree to use as a basis of hiring and promotion; updating of local school and college curricula to meet new credential requirements; enrollment of prospective workers in programs that raise both basic and technical skills to new industry standards; and support of ongoing learning for workers once on the job to ensure success and options for advancement. The intermediary capacity created to coordinate all of these activities across firms and stakeholders is often supported by a combination of public, philanthropic and private industry dollars-a true partnership of investment that, if replicated nationally with the support of public policy, could fundamentally change how U.S. industries develop pipelines of skilled workers with the support of our public workforce development and higher education systems.
IMPLEMENTATION, TIMELINE, AND DELIVERABLES
The national organizations behind Business Leaders United want to expand their intermediary efforts over the next 18 months (July 2011 to December 2012) so that their supported partnerships increase by 33% to a total of 220, engaging almost 2400 local employers -from businesses that employ fewer than 50 workers to those whose employ thousands. If successful, over 50,000 individuals could benefit from these efforts, either through direct training, employment, retention and or career advancement services, or through more generalized changes in how local education, training and workforce development organization adjust their services to better meet the changing needs of a local industry. While this is already an accomplishment of significant scale, Business Leaders United want to further engage policymakers to replicate these partnerships nationally, and to better align public education and training investments with these initiatives. To that end, within a year of the project's launch, Business Leaders United proposes to bring employer leaders from a portion of their 220 partnerships to Washington, DC to meet with national policymakers about the continued necessity of public investments in workforce training during this economic recovery, and to efficiently target those investments with the help of such business partnerships at the local or regional level. The intended outcome would be a new set of public investments in skills-focused business partnership development that could multiply these 220 partnerships several times over.
Even with unemployment still near 10%, many U.S. employers who want to start hiring again report they cannot find workers with the right skills to fill waiting positions. For some industries, these skills shortages existed prior to the recession, and they are now re-emerging as a brake on firms' recovery. This is a particular challenge for small- and medium-sized employers who do not have in-house training programs, and therefore rely on publicly funded college and community-based training programs now at risk due to threatened state and federal budget cuts. Related challenges face corporate employers who want to provide new employment opportunities for local residents recruited through publicly-funded screening and basic skills programs. With limited public resources and millions out of work, we need to make sure every dollar invested in workforce training is targeted at the right jobs with the right skills, and that such programs are developed in partnership with local employers who pledge to hire and retain qualified graduates. Thankfully, over the past few years, an emerging field of business- or sector-targeted skills partnerships-led by local employers in collaboration with colleges, community-based organizations, workforce investment boards, unions and other partners-have compiled a track record of success for meeting the skill needs of participating workers and businesses. To support our nascent economic recovery and to address larger structural skills shortages in specific U.S. industries, such partnerships need to be replicated on a national scale as a means to better align our limited public education and training investments with the demands of a restructuring economy.