In July, the U.S. economy created 255,000 new jobs, with strong growth in both business services, healthcare, hospitality and IT related fields. If you haven’t noticed yet, businesses are adding jobs, particularly in middle and high-skilled sectors, putting greater strain on the workforce development and community college system.
Demand For Trained Workers In Hot Sectors Is Getting Hotter
Many employers are already seeing this increased demand from employers. I was recently meeting with a large workforce development agency in Los Angeles, who said that they have so many openings that they can’t even fill all of their short term trainings, and employers are hiring workers even before students graduate. This is a good problem as far as meeting your numbers, but it will only increase the frustration amongst the business community, if they can’t fill their positions.
Do you know which sectors you’re already serving?
Are you reacting or being proactive? Do you have a well thought out and coordinated plan or are you just responding to the loudest, busiest clients? It’s common that job developers work with the loudest clients that have the most openings. Often times these positions pay less, and are harder to fill. This is why the employers are coming to you in the first place.
When I ran a staffing company, we would often have workforce development as our recruiter of last resort, and often believed their candidates were “less qualified”. I obviously overcame this stereotype as I began to work in the workforce space, but many employers still harbor this mentality toward workforce development.
In order to break out of this rut, you have to really look at your sectors strategically, know which industries in your area are growing, and offering higher paying careers, with a potential career path.
Pick 2-3 Sectors and Go Deep
Another lesson I learned from my experience in recruiting and staffing was the power of specialization. Every year I would determine which sectors I wanted to target, based on which ones were seeing the fastest growth, and go after them. Typically in any region there are 2-3 top sectors with the fastest growth. You can’t do more.
For example, in Orange County, finance, tech and biomedical are all very strong, but it’s going to vary in your region. Also these fields may be a stretch for the population you work with, so you may have to calibrate and look at hospitality, customer service, etc.
Whichever you choose, you should assign your business services reps to 1-2 sectors, and have them become a sector specialist, learning the industry, job categories, companies and contacts in your region. In Sector Strategies, relationships and expertise are key. It even helps if your sector specialist has a background in that that chosen sector, as it cuts the curve on learning, and gives instant credibility.
Stop Competing & Start Collaborating
It is not uncommon in a region to have multiple workforce agencies calling on the same employers, or having employers working with more than one workforce agency. I’ve met with employers from the healthcare, banking and IT sectors, and all of them have expressed frustration that the workforce system is uncoordinated. However, on the positive perspective, employers have said they would increase their engagement with the workforce system, were it more coordinated.
So how do you coordinate business services and sector strategies regionally?
- You need a common CRM (Customer Relationship Management) platform to share data regionally on employer relationships and sector strategies. Start with sharing your data. When you have data across multiple stakeholders and are able to see which employers are being called on, from which industries, and measure the outcomes, you can start to build a broader picture of the region. Additionally, you can avoid redundancies in service, and eliminate the competitive nature of business engagement and start to make it more collaborative.
- Hold regular regional planning with business services stakeholders. I have seen a lot of traction in different regions when the business services teams get together regular. Probably the best examples of this is with Wisconsin, where the 11 regions of Skills Wisconsin get together monthly, to discuss business services collaboration, share leads and best practices. It’s less about the sharing of leads however and more about what this does for building relationships regionally. These types of meetings are critical, particularly if you are in a heavily concentrated metro region like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc.
So, just to recap. Here are the main takeaway for starting your regional sector strategies:
- Make your sector strategy your workforce strategy – Don’t just define it in a silo, but see it touches everything workforce.
- Hot Sectors – Understand there are 2-3 top sectors in your region, and you need to develop deep subject expertise in these sectors to have an impact.
- Stop competing and start collaborating – Employers don’t like having 3, 4, 5 different agencies all calling on them. It’s too complex.
- Share Data – You need to be able to share contacts, leads, opportunities, job openings, and general business relationships with you region. It’s the only way you can manage collaboration.
- Come Together – You need to meet regularly, preferably monthly, with your business services teams across regions.
A regional approach to sector strategies is necessary and requires a concentration on specific sectors and and busting artificial barriers such as data silos, and the competitive mind set.