By Dean Whittaker

This month we hosted a webinar titled: Economic & Workforce Development: Meeting the Needs of Employers.

Our panel consisted of Sara Dunnigan, Executive Director, Virginia Board of Workforce; Beth Kuhn, Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Workforce Investment; Jim Lautenschleger, Business Solutions Network Manager, Workforce Development Agency – State of Michigan; and Reggie Newson, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

A few of my take-aways from the discussion are that there are thousands, if not, hundreds of thousands of unfilled job openings in every state. Virginia has over 200,000 unfilled positions. Wisconsin, a much less populous state, has over 80,000 openings. Nationally, there are over 5,000,000 unfilled job openings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In some cases, we have people to fill these positions, but they lack the skills necessary to do so. This is being referred to as the “skill gap.”

What was more intriguing to me is what is now described as “people gap,” in which there are not enough people coming into the workforce, even if trained, to fill all of the positions available. Our economy appears to have expanded beyond our ability to meet the human resource needs of all employers. The aging population of baby boomers (10,000 per day for the next 19 years), who at some point will retire, is widening the people gap. Mark Lautman describes this situation in his book When Boomers Bail.

As I mentioned in last month’s newsletter, Congress, in the re-authorization of the Workforce Investment Act, is attempting to re-focus the training efforts on the needs of employers as well as the needs of those seeking work. This shift has created opportunities of collaboration between economic development organizations and workforce development agencies. Our panelists addressed what their states are doing to bring these two agencies together.

Wisconsin stood out with their $50 million State-funded effort to address the needs of employers. Wisconsin’s Fast Forward Program offers grants to employers for employer-led training of new and incumbent workers. It allows the employer to determine the curriculum, instructor (including in-house), and trainee. Launched in 2013, the program will create a system of real-time labor intelligence to connect job seekers, employers, and available jobs.

If you are interested in hearing about each state’s efforts to bring together economic and workforce development, our webinar recording is now available for viewing. Drop me a note, or click on the link at the bottom of this newsletter.