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The How and Why of Collaborating With Workforce Development Boards

On August 24, CAEL's membership team hosted the latest installment of Coffee With CAEL. The virtual, 30-minute gatherings bring CAEL members together with experts who share their insights about important issues in adult learning. In this edition, John Flanagan, president and CEO of CareerSource Tampa Bay, and John Hawkins, senior director of partnership development for CAEL, discussed how postsecondary institutions and workforce development boards (WDBs) can collaborate.

Understanding that not all postsecondary institutions have established relationships with a WDB, Hawkins and Flanagan covered how to find the agency serving their region. Once connected, education providers can tap into their WDB’s analysis of labor market data, training needs, and career pathways. (As a reminder, CAEL institutional members receive a complimentary annual report covering their local labor market landscape.) 

CareerSource Tampa Bay, itself a CAEL institutional member, is the designated local workforce development board for the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County. Covering a region that is home to about 1.5 million people, the board operates five career centers, and they serve as the direct consumer interface for WDBs.

According to Flanagan, last year, about 40,000 unique customers visited a CareerSource Tampa Bay center. But it's the behind-the-scenes collaboration among diverse organizations that makes it possible for WDBs to be a seamless resource for job seekers and adult learners, and that is what Flanagan stressed to the mostly postsecondary audience that joined this Coffee With CAEL event.  

Owing to that seamless service, the many moving parts that drive a workforce board's mission may not be obvious. That's probably a good thing for people who need quick access to education and career paths. But Flanagan and Hawkins made the case that when WDBs and postsecondary educators take notice of each other, both niches of the education-employment ecosystem benefit. After all, as the National Association of Workforce Boards describes it, "A Workforce Development Board is the link between a region's workforce talent and its employer skill needs." 

Often, there is a disconnect between the talents employers need and the skills employees have. That's where postsecondary education providers come in. "We see a lot of folks who are maybe looking for a job but maybe looking for a better opportunity that requires some training and upskilling," said Flanagan. "Certainly, [that's] where partnerships with higher education come in.”

In fact, Flanagan said about half of the people who visit CareerSource Tampa Bay need education or training. "Working with higher education is incredibly important because we can act as a funnel or a pipeline into the higher education space as well."

With about 55% of CareerSource Tampa Bay's membership hailing from the private business community, the organization enjoys real-time insight into labor market needs. The WDB relays those needs to its education and training partners, which utilize CareerSource Tampa Bay funding for learning pathways that range from short-term credentials to bachelor's degree programs. 

Those programs sustain the talent pipelines that feed what Flanagan describes as the demand side of the workforce equation: employers. The vast majority -- more than 95% -- staff fewer than 200 workers, says Flanagan. CareerSource Tampa Bay works with about 3,500 businesses, so that still adds up to a lot of career paths -- career paths that, without an educational on-ramp, are often out of reach for adult learners. Among the ways the WDB helps sustain such on-ramps are tuition subsidies for career seekers and work-based learning subsidies for employers who are onboarding people who may not yet possess all of the competencies needed for job proficiency. 

"It's critically important for us to be that kind of convening entity between business and education," said Flanagan. "I think as educators, it's really important that we help develop the skills that the business community is telling us that they need in order to continue being in business."

To shorten the length of education-career pathways, CareerSource Tampa Bay is partnering with CAEL on credit for prior learning initiatives with local providers in Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Flanagan said the work helps serve job seekers who have “some college completion, or have a significant amount of work experience that could translate into some actual college credit to help them move along in their career journey."

Better serving students-cum-workers and being more present at the intersection of learning and work are probably ample reasons for most postsecondary education providers to seek and maintain strong ties with WDBs. To call attention to a bonus benefit, Hawkins asked Flanagan to explain how connecting with workforce boards can open up postsecondary institutions to greater grant opportunities. 

Flanagan showed that WDB partnerships, which include local governments and industry associations, can help postsecondary institutions reimagine the size and scope of the grant work they can partake in and become competitive for otherwise-out-of-reach proposals. He noted that grants often require the inclusion of a WDB, if not as a lead then as a partner agency. 

The two workforce experts' discussion delineated many reasons for closer collaboration among postsecondary education providers and workforce development boards. The good news is that there are more than 500 WDBs in the U.S. Each state has one, and many regions, such as the one represented by CareerSource Tampa Bay, do as well. Even if your region doesn't have a local board, "You certainly could connect with the state board," said Hawkins. 

How to find your WDB? Hawkins recommends the U.S. Department of Labor's Workforce Development Board Finder. It's essentially a robust search engine for workforce boards. Or you could attend CAEL's annual conference. The event brings together hundreds of people from industry, workforce and economic development, and postsecondary education. This year's tracks include "Workforce talent solutions" and "education and economic recovery," just two of the many intersections where WDBs and postsecondary education providers must mingle if they want to meet adult learners where they are. 

Did you miss this Coffee With CAEL? CAEL members can view it on-demand at www.caelconnect.org. Not a member yet? Sign up here.

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