Council addressing workforce development needs

Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council helps employers find skilled workers they require

Jeanne Bennett

From the engineering industry to manufacturing, the struggle to find employees with the right set of advanced skills is nothing new for local businesses. But through a number of different initiatives, the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council (SWWDC) is working to make that problem a thing of the past.

“One of our primary goals is to ensure businesses have access to trained individuals who are ready to work,” said Jeanne Bennett, CEO of the SWWDC, a nonprofit based in Vancouver. “One way we do this is by providing funding for them to improve the skills of their existing workers; this helps the company remain competitive by increasing productivity and employee retention.”

While focusing on training for existing workers is a large part of what the SWWDC does today, it hasn’t always been that way. When the nonprofit opened in 2002, its primary focus was the overseeing of Worksource centers where it helped people of all backgrounds obtain a proper education prior to entering the workforce. After 2008, the SWWDC focused on working closely with businesses to ensure they had access to highly-qualified candidates coming out of the Great Recession.

Over the past 13 years, the SWWDC has gone from three employees and an $8.8 million budget (with 94 percent of its funds coming from the Workforce Investment Act) to 10 employees and a $9.6 million budget (with only 51 percent of its funds coming from WIA). With that change, the nonprofit’s main focus has evolved to working more with state and regional partners and focusing on the needs of specific demographics and individual industries.

“We have expanded efforts to address workforce needs in populations such as youth and in specific industries, such as manufacturing and high-tech,” said Bennett. “We’ve been able to do this by obtaining competitive grant funding for programs such as incumbent worker training and YouthBuild.”

Bennett said the nonprofit hopes to build more programs in the future that focus on youth and young adults, providing them with access to work-based internships and classes.

Additionally, with an eye on the future, Bennett said the SWWDC will implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) within the next year. Much aligned with SWWDC’s mission, WIOA, which was passed by Congress last year, is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with the skilled workers they need to compete in the global economy.

“WIOA will bring some changes, including more and closer collaboration with business, education and economic development,” said Bennett. “We already have strong partnerships with our local colleges, K-12 school districts and economic development agencies, so we’re looking forward to expanding our collaborative efforts to further benefit our local businesses, community and economy.”

To learn more about the SWWDC, visit www.swwdc.org.

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