This is a guest post by Kevin Doyle, Principal of Green Economy and Co-Chair of the New England Clean Energy Council’s Workforce Development Group. It is reprinted by permission from the Clean Energy Council blog.
Economic development and workforce development must be done together. That was the primary recommendation of two research reports released last month. It’s a common sense conclusion that has important implications for the clean energy industry and the education and training community in Massachusetts.
The first report, from the Aspen Institute’s Workforce Strategies Initiative, examined efforts to align economic and workforce development programs in Louisville, Kentucky; Cleveland, Ohio; and Southwestern Pennsylvania. The resulting report (Where Labor Supply Meets Labor Demand: Connecting Workforce Development to Economic Development in Local Labor Markets) identifies four critical capacities that development programs need to align themselves with the changing requirements of local employers, including:
- Industry expertise and credibility
- Deep knowledge about the local labor pool
- Ability to conduct local labor market research that is informed by both data and industry intelligence
- Relationship building and maintenance
Although it might seem obvious that employers, economic development professionals and the workforce community would travel in close alignment with one another, the Aspen Institute report suggests that this is often not the case. In fact, it’s quite common for the three groups to work parallel to, or even at odds with, the goals of those they are trying to support. By developing and sharing the four capacities Aspen identified, workforce and economic development groups can better serve job-seekers, career changers, students, employers, tax payers and training institutions.
The need for close collaboration between economic and workforce development has been evident to leaders in the Massachusetts clean energy industry for a long time. To assure continued alignment, a coalition of organizations sponsored a series of leadership “summit” meetings in 2010 and early 2011. The summits were held at UMass Lowell, in New Bedford, and at UMass Amherst.
The Summit organizers included Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, New England Clean Energy Council, Skillworks, Garfield Foundation, and the UMass campuses in Lowell, Dartmouth, Amherst and Boston. In addition to dozens of clean energy company executives, the events attracted representatives from local and state government agencies, colleges and universities, vocational training schools, apprenticeship programs, social justice advocacy groups, workforce investment boards, and labor unions. Over 300 leaders registered for the summit meetings.
A summary of conclusions from the three Massachusetts summits was released last month under the title Supporting and Growing the Clean Energy Sector in Massachusetts: Clean Energy Industry Economic and Workforce Development Leadership Summits.
The comments and suggestions from the Bay State summit meetings clustered around seven common themes, including:
- Growing the Demand
- Policy and Vision
- Training and Workforce Development
- Research and Development Support
- Innovation and Finance: Building Businesses
- Social Justice
Within each of these themes, the detailed recommendations mirrored the central conclusions of the Aspen Institute report. The Summit participants zeroed in on the need for shared, accurate, and detailed labor market information focused on clearly defined clean energy industry sectors so that workforce programs closely match employer needs at the local level.
The Aspen Institute study and the Massachusetts clean energy summit report were also closely aligned in calling for strong, sustained, personal relationships between employers and the economic and workforce professionals charged with growing the economy and training people to land jobs in a difficult employment market.
The 4th Clean Energy Connections Conference in Springfield, Mass. on Nov. 2 will give the state’s clean energy economic and workforce development community a chance to review the comments and suggestions made at the original summit meetings, assess progress and pitfalls over the last few months, and discuss plans for staying aligned in 2012 and beyond.
As the Aspen Institute report notes, the recent recession has resulted in austerity policies that will strike hard at public and private budgets. This harsher environment is reducing the margin of error for economic and workforce development programs. Taxpayers, employers and government officials are shining a bright spotlight on expenditures aimed at job creation and job placement. They are demanding clear and measurable results.
To produce these results, employers, economic development professionals, and the workforce development community will need to support each other, produce and share high quality information, and work together toward closely aligned goals and objectives. Working on separate, uncoordinated tracks, is simply not an option.