By Dean Whittaker

Two worlds are about to collide – the Workforce Development and Economic Development worlds. Can they play nice together?

Demographics, globalization, and economic re-structuring are propelling these two development efforts towards each other with amazing speed. The retirement of baby-boomers is creating a skill shortage in many industries. Globalization is driving the need for higher-level workforce skills as we attempt to move up the value-added food chain to compete for the sourcing of work. At the same time, work is becoming more mobile, segmented and dispersed. Economic re-structuring, with its automation of manufacturing and a shift to a service-based economy driven more by innovation and design, is causing many workers’ skill sets to become obsolete. The business universe is shifting, and suddenly these two worlds, which have typically operated in parallel but separate universes, are coming together in a whole new way.

I saw the potential challenges in this new relationship at a conference sponsored by our local Workforce Development Board, entitled “Building Partnerships: Workforce and Economic Development.” Curious as usual, I decided to attend the session, expecting to see an even mix of economic development colleagues and my new friends from the Workforce Development world. The audience turned out to be heavily weighted towards Workforce Development representatives. The outstanding session was facilitated by two presenters, one from each of the two worlds.

Though both worlds are concerned with business and economics, their language, funding sources, time frames, constituents, strategies and tactics all differ. But Workforce Development, with its focus on reducing poverty, promoting equity, and seeing things from a worker-centric perspective, and Economic Development, with its focus on efficiency, creating wealth, gaining jobs, and increasing tax bases are going to have to work together. The gravitational pull of the millions of dollars being invested by Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) and the pending talent shortages on the horizon are bound to force the issue.

What do these parallel efforts bring to the party?  The WIBs bring resources, information, alliances, and expertise on the local labor pool. The ED folks bring relationships with existing and prospective firms, sales and marketing skills, and strong access to community leadership.

What mutual benefits can collaboration between these two efforts bring? What is each trying to accomplish? What do they know about each other?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of both? What areas will benefit from collaboration?

A framework to consider in forming a collaborative relationship includes governance (organizational restructuring), strategy (alignment of mission, function and resources), and tactics (targeting initiatives to achieve specific objectives) within business attraction, retention and new-business formation. But clearly, these new partnerships are going to explore worlds where no man has gone before as they hurdle entrenched business cultures and try to work together.  Certainly the benefits to collaboration will far outweigh the cost of getting along.

Have you seen any good examples of these new partnerships? Drop me a note and I’ll share them in future newsletters. Three examples the presenters shared were the Sand Diego Workforce Partnership, The Workplace, Inc. in Bridgeport, CT, and the WorkSource in Jacksonville, FL.