By Beth Brinly, Vice President of Workforce Innovation, Maher & Maher

In order to meet the diverse needs of TechHire grant participants, there should naturally be a dynamic relationship between workforce development system partners, community colleges, and community based organizations. However, there is often times a gap between the “as is” state and the “future state.”
 
To address this gap, TechHire grantees recently participated in a peer learning call that highlighted strategies to strengthen the relationship between these partners. During the call, we heard from two featured Tech Hire grantees, Waukesha-Ozaukee-Washington Workforce Development Board, Inc. (WOW) and UAW-Labor Employment and Training Center (LETC), both of which highlighted effective strategies from their unique vantage point.
 
TechHire Success in Partnership Collaboration
 
Laura Catherman of WOW provided an example that described the roles of the partners as a “friendly competition” among Local Workforce Development Boards (LWDB), which manage several TechHire grants across the region. The LWDBs liaise with industry groups in their respective geography; they also convene multiple employers across industries in the region. The LWDBs also collaborate on participant referrals, which use community base mailing, social media, and co-location in American Job Centers. According to WOW, the keys to this strong collaborative has been effective leadership, a practice of building off each partner’s strengths, as well as transparency, accountability, and meeting the regional economy’s needs.
 
Anthony Susarrey from UAW-LETC shared that their business engagement work is led by both public and private training providers. In advanced manufacturing, the community college has engaged industry in curriculum modification. UAW recently expanded their work into IT, ramping up recruitment efforts that include posting flyers, direct outreach, and recruitment at job fairs. As for participant referrals, partners have defined when and how to play a role with an eye toward avoiding duplication with other agencies. UAW-LETC has found that ongoing dialogue is critical to ensure that referral placement and retention strategies are complementary.
 
Ideas for Achieving Collaborative Competition among Partners
 
Following these examples, there was a robust discussion among grantees about ideas for advancing the work through “collaborative competition,” which included:

  • Creating an ecosystem to support industry’s needs: identify what each partner does well and build on these strengths;
  • Formalizing the partner relationships through agreements like MOUs that clearly define roles and responsibilities of the partners, including businesses;
  • Taking a unified approach to business engagement with a single Point of Contact for businesses;
  • Building a work-based learning support structure including OJT and internships;
  • Engaging staff at the direct service level in American Job Centers involved in outreach efforts to individuals with a criminal record and other subpopulations; and
  • Providing in-service training to partners so that they understand the TechHire grant and identifying opportunities to add value to the system.

Shared Values and Shared Strategy in the Kentucky Workforce System
 
I saw some of these approaches in action during my time in the Kentucky workforce system. One specific example where workforce, economic development, and community college partners came together is the Kentucky Skills Network, which addressed requests from Kentucky businesses through a single point of contact to meet their talent pipeline needs. These partners brought together local and state workforce development organizations to streamline the approach to assisting businesses in recruiting top talent, training new and existing employees, and developing a workforce to support state and regional sector work. Ten regional business services teams were developed, based on Local Workforce Development Areas, they provided regular training on program services, consultative sales, etc. One team went from reaching and assisting 500 businesses a year to 5,000 businesses. This effort also led to the retooling of Kentucky Bluegrass State Skills Corporation funding and Kentucky Community and Technical College System Trains funding prioritizing those projects that align with state and regional sectors and preparing individual customers in critical career pathways and to support thriving regional economies.
 
When partners start with the customer in mind—both the business and the individual customer—a set of shared values, service strategy, and outcomes arise. Partners need to then meet each other where they are so that they can contribute to meeting needs and/or complement those of another partner most effectively. The key is to understand and be understood and then - and only then - can the partnership flourish in a competitive collaboration and move closer to the “future state” they envision.