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Economic and Workforce Development are in Bloom with CAEL’s WED Team

The days are longer, the temperature’s warmer and gardens are in bloom.

Many projects spearheaded by CAEL’s Workforce and Development team are also blossoming, and we’re happy to share the stories behind them. We’ve been active throughout the first quarter, continuing our commitment to building stronger economies and vibrant communities. Helping regions overcome economic and workforce development challenges, and witnessing the resulting impact on communities, remains as rewarding as ever.

As always, we hope that in sharing these stories of workforce and economic development in action we’ll inspire dialog about the importance of linking workforce and economic development. We look forward to hearing examples of similar successes and challenges overcome in your community.



Joel Simon, VP

Sarah Miller, Associate Director

James Reddish, Associate Director

Jade Arn, Senior Consultant

Wilson Finch, Senior Consultant

Devon Coombe, Director of Business and Budget Planning

Angela Gallagher, Research Associate

Tucker Plumlee, Research Associate

Building a Bridge for Dislocated Workers in Indiana with a Skills Crosswalk

It’s a story that’s all too familiar for many regions across the country — lower labor costs are available abroad and American workers find themselves dislocated from the careers they’ve had for years — decades, in some cases. Left hanging are the employees, many of whom have little to no post-secondary education and who must now find a new career pathway with the skills they’ve developed through the years of their prior employment. What many of these employees often don’t realize is that they do, in fact, have skills — transferable skills, valued skills, technical knowledge — that, when enhanced by targeted advising or additional training, can help to increase their ability to gain employment in other roles and, in some cases, other industries.

This was the foundational premise that connected CAEL to work in Indiana, where, in partnership with Marion County’s workforce development board, EmployIndy, we’ve been working to document full occupational profiles and highlight skills transferability from downsizing manufacturing sectors into other growth opportunities in the Indianapolis economy. We’ve been developing a highly comprehensive Skills Crosswalk, which began to develop in November of 2016 and is schedule to conclude late this summer, which helps to aid employment coaching, career advising and direct guidance for career transitions for these dislocated workers. CAEL’s work includes:

  • Research on the region’s labor market, in-demand jobs, and education and training options
  • Development and implementation of tools and resources
  • Consultation and training to build capacity of EmployIndy’s staff who are supporting transitioning workers

Those who take advantage of the Crosswalk will reflect on his/her current role and the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) they demonstrate. Using that background, job seekersreceive help to identify additional KSAs they already possess that may not be relevant for their present role. This allows users to explore jobs that closely overlap with those KSAs, or to crosswalk and learn about details for other positions. Given this insight, job seekers are able to compare between and within industries, opening doors to employment opportunities they may never otherwise have found.

A key feature of the Crosswalk is its ability to highlight gaps in users’ skills and its connection of education and training opportunities to remove them. In keeping with CAEL’s mission of linking learning to work, the Crosswalk provides information on an area’s education providers, including:

  • Campus locations and brief overviews of institutions
  • Program and credential types
  • Relationships to KSAs for individual jobs in sectors

We are proud to serve Indiana’s workforce and increase awareness of the workforce skills job seekers need to respond to changing industry trends. By enhancing communication and collaboration among regional education and training stakeholders, we’re helping build a healthy workforce ecosystem.

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Helping Communities Grow

We are actively engaged in projects throughout the country, helping communities grow and prosper. Here are a few of our current projects.

  • Aligning entry and middle-skill worker requirements across healthcare employers in Chicago
  • Mapping career paths in the energy sector across Iowa
  • Helping leverage talent, training and system capacity to support economic development marketing in Southern Illinois
  • Creating career awareness and advising support tools across Tennessee
  • Helping college/workforce board partnerships to facilitate credential completion in Miami, Seattle, Philadelphia and Norfolk, VA
  • Mapping transferable retail skills to other demand sectors nationally
  • Facilitating transfer of military STEM skills into high demand civilian occupations in Seattle, WA and D.C./Maryland
  • Helping colleges across Missouri to align their programs with national assessments and industry certifications
  • Helping colleges in Mississippi, Colorado, Illinois and West Virginia improve their prior learning assessment (PLA) programs and grant college credit for work-based learning
  • Building a pipeline of skilled workers for Northwest Arkansas’s high growth sectors

Workforce and Economic Development Q2 2017 Upcoming Events at a Glance

Iowa SMART Economic Development Conference
Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center
833 5th Ave. | Des Moines, IA | 5/4

2017 Florida Economic Development Conference
Hyatt Regency Pier 66
2301 SE 17th St. | Fort Lauderdale, FL |

International Economic Development Council Economic Development Week
Events nationwide|5/8-5/13

2017 ASU + GSV Summit
Grand America Hotel
555 Main St. | Salt Lake City, UT | 5/8-5/10

Hyatt Regency Orange County
11999 Harbor Blvd. | Garden Grove, CA

PA Workforce Development Association’s 33rd Annual Employment, Training and Education Conference
Hershey Lodge
325 University Dr. | Hershey, PA | 5/10-5/12

International Economic Development Council 2017 Economic Futures Forum
Little Rock Marriott
3 Statehouse Plaza | Little Rock, AR

Southern Economic Development Council Mid-Year Conference
Plano Marriott at Legacy Town Center
7121 Bishop Rd. | Plano, TX | 6/7-6/9

Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) 2017 Annual Conference
Grand Hyatt Denver
1750 Welton St. | Denver, CO | 6/12-6/16

Indiana Economic Development Association/Mid-America EDC Summer Conference*
Location TBD | Fort Wayne, IN | 6/21-6/23

*CAEL will be among the featured speakers

Ensuring Talent Pools Run Deep in Northwest Arkansas

Northwest Arkansas knows the importance of having access to robust talent pipelines. Home to multiple Fortune 500 companies, including Wal-Mart, JB Hunt and Tyson Foods, in addition to satellite offices for large businesses and suppliers, the region has enjoyed significant economic growth but needs to ensure that it can produce the skills workforce that those firms need.

Over the last year-and-a-half, CAEL has worked with the Northwest Arkansas Council to develop and implement components of a regional talent pipeline strategy. CAEL conducted an extensive education and training asset inventory of programs from middle to graduate school that support key occupational clusters in the region and, with support from Avalanche Consulting, a workforce supply and demand gap analysis that informed the regional strategy.

Factoring in regional supply and demand and existing education/training offerings in the region from the K-12 system through postsecondary, CAEL’s work has largely focused on “priming the pipeline” by working with career and technical education (CTE) in the region’s high schools to assess current capacity to deliver industry-relevant programming. CAEL developed—and, with local educators, vetted—a set of indicators of high quality CTE, which the region is using to further strengthen CTE in the region.   

These quality indicators served as the basis for a career-related programming self-assessment for the region’s high schools. CAEL staff analyzed the results of the assessments and conducted onsite strategy sessions with each of the 19 schools to discuss their strengths, challenges and goals relative to CTE and other career-related programming. Several themes emerged across the site visits and, along with the aggregate self-assessment results, informed regional talent strategy recommendations.

Currently, CAEL is examining in greater detail high demand credentials and certifications in the region, validating this with local employers and working with K-12 and postsecondary educational institutions in the region to highlight those that align with key occupational clusters in the region. In addition, CAEL has continued to support the work of the K-12 committees formed to implement recommendations that were identified through the regional strategy. This portion of the project is scheduled to be completed by the end of June.   

We are helping align education and training programs throughout Northwest Arkansas to meet industry needs and skills gaps. To learn more about how CAEL creates stronger workforces and economies, click here.

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Client Corner

The information technology sector represents one of the State of Iowa’s key job growth opportunities. But like most growing sectors, the ability to produce skilled talent in large numbers is the key to realizing that job growth potential. Knowing this, the Iowa Department of Education, in partnership with the Technology Association of Iowa, engaged the services of CAEL with the goal of creating a map of IT occupations which could be used to greater awareness and interest in IT careers among students, parents and counselors throughout the state.

We recently spoke with Technology Association of Iowa (TAI) President Brian C. Waller about CAEL’s regional IT industry work, which develops sector partnerships and builds IT sector career pathways to grow the industry in Iowa.

CAEL: What is it that brought TAI to the table on this issue?

Brian C. Waller: We were brought to the table by the Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) department and its Director Beth Townsend to develop sector boards around the state of Iowa. They started with IT because they recognized that it’s a vital industry and that communities that foster IT often prosper. It was understood that the conversation should be led by the industry, and so we were brought to the table to represent it. Because we have a unique opportunity to hear the industry’s voice, we were suited to really lead the effort to demystify careers in technology and begin mapping the journey through it for prospective employees.

CAEL: To what do you attribute the lack of Iowa students considering IT careers?

Waller: They really don’t see it in their daily lives—their teachers are not teaching it; the best teachers and mentors teach their passion, and there’s not a lot of people being produced from schools in the region who have a passion for technology. That’s the biggest hurdle that we’re trying to overcome, demystifying those careers. I don’t think students look at a manufacturing plant and think, “Wow, there are probably 4-5 IT people working there, doing data analytics, building apps or building dashboards for the CEOs to get real-time business knowledge.” They don’t understand that most business decisions are now being made through data analysis and as facilitated by those in technology fields. This is especially true for those in rural areas throughout Iowa, where they’re even further away from the industry and where there’s even less visibility into it.

CAEL: What makes these initiatives unique?

Waller: Working with CAEL gave us the opportunity to really simplify what can be a very difficult, complex industry. We’ve been able to produce easy to read, concise industry pathways that distill IT roles to their core characteristics to help students visualize themselves in them. So, we can say things like “If you’re someone who loves people, and you love coding, you’d be perfect for a leadership role in technology,” or “If you’re an introverted person, and you like to do data analytics, you might be best served to be a software engineer.” This really helped us discover, in a very simple way, the needs and passions of Iowa students, and how they would apply to the IT industry.

CAEL: How has Iowa's reputation as a technology state changed over the years?

Waller: Over the last few years we’ve seen an immense investment in the technology space here. It started about 5-7 years ago with companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft making a lot of capital investment in Iowa to build data centers. Traditionally, a lot of those data centers would be found in the Northwest regions of our country. But now those companies, enticed by low utility costs and the low risk of natural disasters in the region, are really starting to look to Iowa.

But that investment also goes beyond data centers. Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook was here in Iowa a few weeks ago meeting with our Lieutenant Governor to talk about developing strategies to encourage women to pursue opportunities in the industry, for example, demonstrating that Iowa is now recognized by major tech companies as a place to grow.

We also have thriving financial services, insurance and agriculture industries here in Iowa, and you’re seeing companies in those industries start to position and talk about themselves as tech companies. Principal Financial Group, a global financial investment firm based in Des Moines, is now saying “We’re a technology company” and they’re recruiting technology people because they know that that’s going to be the future; in the agriculture space, John Deere Intelligent Solutions group, based in central Iowa, is doing all the technology behind precision agriculture for John Deere tractors, and so is also a prominent tech driver in the region.  

Iowa’s probably not seen as a tech state at first glance, but when you look a little deeper you find larger technology companies investing in Iowa, in addition to many global players in finance, insurance, agriculture and healthcare based here that have made a tech a major component of their businesses. It’s clear that tech in Iowa has taken off.

CAEL: What is the value of these initiatives for Iowans?

Waller: The value is in the fact that CAEL has helped bring so many different people to the table and hear what they’re saying about the industry. I don’t think some people in the room knew that a Help Desk Manager existed, or that there was a difference in the leadership track of a CIO and CTO. By allowing so many different voices to be heard, these initiatives are going to reinvent how the IT industry in Iowa is marketed.   

CAEL: What kind of feedback have you received about these initiatives?

Waller: We’ve gotten tremendously positive feedback from everyone who has learned about the initiatives.  

As we work to piecemeal this complex topic out, we’ve been able to use the feedback to bolster our efforts.

For example, working with people who hold jobs that CAEL has mapped out, we’ve started to develop our marketing of the career mapping component. From the feedback we’ve received, we’ve come to realize the importance of making the industry more personal. To that end, we’re developing a “Rock Stars of Iowa Technology” campaign, highlighting individuals in the tech industry and put a face to them.

We’ve also received great feedback from the community college system, a system in Iowa that really wants to play in this as they feel that they’re at the center of industry and workforce.

CAEL: What will the successful implementation of these projects look like?

Waller: You often hear people say that there’s no real return on investment for an awareness campaign, but for us success looks like more people gaining knowledge of the tech industry, more people going into the industry, more people who don’t see themselves as technologists coming to appreciate that they need to have to understand the vocabulary of tech because they’ll almost certainly have a need in their life that they’ll have to confront in a business level where they’ll have to know technology terminology.  

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Call to Serve on the Community Advisory Council

The Federal Reserve Board is now accepting applications from individuals who wish to serve on its Community Advisory Council (CAC).

The application can be accessed here.

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