Workforce investment strategies for business growth

The demands for new approaches to supporting our local industry growth will only continue

Person at laptop
Kevin Perkey and Darcy Hoffman
KEVIN PERKEY AND DARCY HOFFMAN Workforce Southwest Washington

Advances in technology, worker preferences, new state and federal workplace policies, the affects of automation and the gig economy all push and pull our world of work in ever-changing directions. To meet the demands of this rapidly changing environment, our public-private workforce development system, led by Workforce Southwest Washington (WSW), driven by private, public and nonprofit leaders across SW Washington, is evolving the ways in which we invest in business growth and talent development. Income Share Agreements, new incumbent worker strategies and third-party employee engagement and retention experts are just three exciting areas we’re looking to grow as we head into 2020.

Income Share Agreements

Lifelong learning is critical to obtaining and retaining high-quality employment. Certificate, on-the-job training and post-secondary education and training continue to be required in our rapidly changing economy. However, equitable access to lifelong learning continues to challenge many low- to middle-income families across our community. The rising costs of continuing education coupled with declining public sector support limit access and opportunity for many future learners.

One promising approach we’re following is the rise of Income Share Agreements (ISAs) where a student agrees to pay a set percentage of future income if they earn wages above an established threshold after graduation. Our partners at San Diego Workforce Partnership are pioneering an approach for Workforce Development Boards that we are exploring for potential use in our region.

Incumbent Worker Training

When utilized to train your current workforce for their next job within your organization, incumbent worker training is a promising strategy that supports recruitment and increases retention of new and existing workers. It’s a major marketing win when you can advertise opportunities for growth inside of your own organization. In such a tight labor market, this is more important than ever. Since 2016, WSW has invested close to $500,000 to upskill existing employees in this manner. Local businesses have matched that investment with over $600,000 and together we’ve upskilled more than 700 employees.

Business investment is critical to the long-term success and sustainability of these programs. As companies continue to invest in clear internal career pathways, employer/employee results have improved. Our data shows coordination of public-private investments increases positive outcomes for employers and employees. Outcomes include career progression, industry-recognized credential attainment, higher earnings and better retention rates for businesses, ultimately resulting in cost savings.

Employee Engagement & Retention Experts

Lack of meaningful economic mobility for far too many low- and middle-income families continues to challenge many businesses across our community. The spending power that comes with reliable, steady, high-quality work drives much of the growth of our small business and entrepreneurial community. The benefits of a strong U.S. economy are not being felt by most, driving greater inequality within communities across our region. Raj Chetty and team at Opportunity Insights are shining a light on the issue, providing valuable research to promising practices across the country.

Locally, we’re piloting insights from Chetty and his team by investing in Employee Engagement & Retention (EER) experts who will be available to support existing and newly-hired employees. Modeled after a successful business-driven job retention program out of Michigan, EER’s serve as an extension of company human resources departments, helping employees troubleshoot common obstacles to their own job retention and career advancement such as transportation, access to housing resources, financial literacy and budgeting, childcare, and additional skills training – to name a few.

Resource for Businesses

As we look ahead to 2020 and beyond, we see an evolution of our public workforce system, whereby innovative, flexible approaches to public investment (such as those outlined above) become the norm. The demands for new approaches to supporting our local industry growth will only continue and we welcome the opportunity to continue to collaborate with our local private and public sectors leaders who are pioneering the way.

Kevin Perkey is Chief Executive Officer of Workforce Southwest Washington. Reach him at Darcy Hoffman is the Director of Business Services at Workforce Southwest Washington. Reach her at WSW is the workforce development board for Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties and invests in services that help people get jobs or advance in their careers and help businesses attract, train and retain workers.

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