By Dean Whittaker

The U.S. has a middle-skill gap. Though the economy is improving, employers still struggle to find skilled workers to fill their open positions, particularly for middle-skill jobs requiring more than a high school diploma but not a four-year degree.

Has the economic development mission been accomplished? Are we now operating in “full employment” mode? There are a number of economic development organizations repositioning themselves by creating new missions.

A seismic shift in economic development is underway. There are two domains that are converging: economic development and workforce development. At the intersection of these two domains, innovation is happening. I’ve outlined some forerunners below.

The Shift in Economic Development

State of Michigan

Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, said as he created the new Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development:

“That effort will require a comprehensive, unified approach to best help Michiganders while working to retain and attract businesses to create more and better jobs. Our state has made great strides. Now is the time to keep moving forward, taking the next steps to ensure Michigan’s resurgence will continue long into the future.”

Columbus, Ohio – Columbus2020

One of five goals from the Columbus2020 2014 CEDS:

“Meet the Workforce Challenge: Demographic changes and demand for new skillsets and talent areas have created a dynamic workforce environment within the Columbus Region and around the United States. To strengthen the Columbus Region’s economy and increase the competiveness of area companies, collaborative partnerships must be enhanced or created to develop the talent necessary within the 11-county area.”

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development

The State of Wisconsin has just completed a merger of their economic development and workforce development into one agency. Take a look at their website.

The Shift in Workforce Development

At the same time economic development is moving toward workforce development, it is moving closer to the traditional industry cluster-based employer focus of economic development organizations.

In 1998, Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), replacing the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) as the largest single source of federal funding for workforce development activities. WIA established a universal access system of one-stop career centers, which provided access to training and employment services for a range of workers, including low-income adults, low-income youth, and dislocated workers.

On July 22, 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law, reauthorizing WIA for six years, from 2015 through 2020. WIOA opens the door to states’ greater use of sector partnerships and career pathway models and includes higher levels of accountability and outcome data reporting.

So, stay tuned for further adventures in the new world of DWD (Department of Workforce Development) as the Wisconsin economic development effort is called. Later in March, Whittaker Associates, as part of the Professional Learning Lab, will be hosting a webinar consisting of a panel of economic development and workforce development leaders who are at the forefront of this new collaborative effort.