Workforce Development ‘Is a Team Sport’
It was a point of emphasis for Futuro Health CEO Van Ton-Quinlivan, as she addressed the Oct. 6 Connecticut Workforce Summit at the AquaTurf Club in Plantsville.
Workforce development “is a team sport, not an individual sport,” she told over 200 leaders representing the public sector, community organizations, and employers, along with area high school students.
“Many employers think they have to go at it alone,” she said. “We’re all in this together and collaboration is key to driving solutions.”
Ton-Quinlivan [pictured above] is a nationally recognized author and thought leader in workforce development, who has worked in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.
The summit was hosted by CBIA, affiliates ReadyCT and CONNSTEP, and Social Venture Partners Connecticut, and sponsored by General Dynamics Electric Boat.
Record Job Openings
CBIA and Marcum’s 2022 Survey of Connecticut Businesses showed that 85% of Connecticut employers struggle to find and retain workers, with 39% calling the lack of skilled applicants the greatest obstacle to growth.
As of July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 113,000 job openings in Connecticut—up 5,000 from the same time a year ago.
However, if every unemployed person in the state was hired tomorrow, there would still be 35,200 open positions.
“What a dissonance between the workers who need work and the employers who need workers and they can’t find each other,” Ton-Quinlivan said.
So what can be done to solve this crisis?
Ton-Quinlivan said it’s a matter of figuring out strategies to bring adults back into the workforce and addressing education needs.
To do that, she discussed how the work of three sets of stakeholders—employers, educators, and community based organizations—must come together and work collaboratively.
She described a problem she calls the “fire hose vs. the garden hose.” The fire hose is the number of students prepared for the workforce and the garden hose is the job postings and needs of employers.
The challenge is making the fire hose and the garden hose work together and match the right people with the right skills at the right time.
“The goal here is that in combination, that you can create a reliable quality and diverse talent pool by coming together rather than having to do it alone,” she said.
“Employers need to have the lead voice, because it’s your jobs, right?
“What’s important for employers is to play together in a consortium rather than go at it alone.”
She said the goal of a consortium is to aggregate jobs and find similar roles with similar skill sets.
Ton-Quinlivan said broader collaboration will “make it easier for education and others to play.”
She noted that the pandemic opened up more options for education, including greater flexibility to bundle and unbundle curricula and create programs that maintain quality while improving readiness.
Community based organizations are better positioned at the local level “than any company, or frankly even the education sector,” Ton-Quinlivan noted.
In her bestselling book WorkforceRX, she wrote: “If you want diversity to be in the talent pool, then the beginning of the workforce development pipeline needs to be diverse.
“This means outreach for diversity has to be done early. Public workforce agencies and community based organizations can do a better job going deeper and wider into communities to bring awareness of the jobs than what most companies have the appetite to do.”
Ton-Quinlivan stressed that employers, the education sector, and community based organizations all need to operate in one ecosystem.
One way to do that, she said, is to think regionally.
“Maybe it makes sense for regions to play together,” she said, “rather than single institutions and partners who work together.
“Then the K-12 institutions map to the common regional economy because as you know, most people stay within the regional economy.”
Ton-Quinlivan said it was essential to match pathway programs to the economy of a region by “identifying which sectors, industry sectors, are important.”
Collaboration between employers, educators, and community based organizations help provide exposure to an occupation, and pathways to get there.
“Education is not one time,” said Ton-Quinlivan. “It’s not early, but it needs to be a set of continuous upgrades throughout your lifetime.”
Bringing Adults Back
A quarter of respondents in the CBIA/Marcum survey called for more skilled labor training, while 23% supported additional education and trade school opportunities.
So how can educational institutions help transition adults back into the workforce?
Ton-Quinlivan said it’s helpful to look at how innovation leaders are changing workflows, and how those workflows are affecting skills.
“Adults are not in the mood to get degrees,” she said. “But they are interested in building their skills.”
She said the key is creating on-ramps and off-ramps for adults so they’re willing to come back into education.
“If they’re not ready to do a degree, how do you bring them into skill sets that are relevant for you?” she asked.
Next Generation Workforce
As for helping develop the next generation of workers, Ton-Quinlivan said introducing career exploration in middle schools is important for “students to get exposure to the range of a wide wide world of work here in Connecticut.”
For high school and college students, it’s all about workplace experience.
“This is a broken area in the workforce pipeline,” she said.
“Employers, only you can provide work experience. So if you’re going to do one thing, think about partnering with your colleges to provide work experience.
“If you have a talent puddle, collaborate to build a pool to compete at the point of hiring.
“And when you have that person on your premises learning about your company as an intern, that’s where you have a competitive advantage at snapping up that dreamer or snapping up that dream candidate.”
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