Workforce development programming impacts millions of individuals annually. Through professional development, academic training, technical skills training, and life skills coursework, underemployed and unemployed individuals can enhance their professional skills in order to be more competitive for livable wage careers.
By examining the history of workforce development, current curriculum training models, and the similarities among existing programs, we can better understand the significance of the workforce development field.
What is Workforce Development?
Workforce development supports business and industry by preparing individuals to enter the workforce. It is designed to increase an individual’s personal income by way of continuing education and training. Programs address five interrelated categories: pipeline, renewal, incumbent, retraining, and entrepreneurship. Elementary, secondary, and higher education are referred to as the pipeline. Renewal services involve training for individuals with barriers to employment. Incumbent training is geared towards underemployed individuals. Retraining skills development is designed for career-changers or those who wish to upgrade their skills. Entrepreneurship maintains growth for existing business-owners (Employment Security Department, 2012).
Workforce development is an antipoverty strategy that promotes employability and individual economic success. Regional differences exist regarding the type, frequency, and accessibility of training. Workforce development initiatives occur both nationally and abroad. Training programs provide services to a wide range of target populations: ex-offenders, homeless youth, unemployed adults, those who are in recovery from substance abuse, recent university graduates, individuals with multiple barriers to employment, out-of-school youth, veterans, English language learners, refugees, individuals with disabilities, and those who are receiving mental health support services.
Workforce development attempts to meet workforce demands by supplying trained employees to fill the gaps in established industries. It offers relevant, industry-based skills training so that individuals can advance professionally, can accomplish economic and educational goals, and can apply newfound skills to engender greater personal economic success. Political shifts in financial support significantly impact the durability and longevity of existing programs.
Workforce development dates back to 1862 with the passage of the Morrill Act (Employment Security Department, 2012). This act gave states public land which enabled them to use the proceeds to establish colleges, pay faculty salaries, and provide public education. It is credited as being the first federal aid for vocational education and training (Employment Security Department, 2012).
Since 1862 several initiatives have been linked to workforce development: the creation of the United States Department of Labor (1913); President Roosevelt’s programming under the New Deal (1930s); the Wagner-Peyser Act (1933), the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962; the Federal Economic Opportunity Act of 1964; the birth of community development corporations (1960s); the Job Training and Partnership Act (1983); and most recently, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA 1998), which is also known as WIA (Employment Security Department, 2012).
Early legislation provided employment opportunities and stimulated the economy in times of recession. Since the early 1960s, services have shifted to focus not just on reducing unemployment, but on providing relief to distressed communities, providing opportunity to the underserved, and providing remedial education. As economic needs have changed, workforce development has begun to provide specialized training to a number of targeted groups.
Nationally, workforce development organizations receive funding through a combination of public and private sources: government grants, monies from corporations and private contributors, income from special events and fundraising, rental income, fees for goods and services provided, income from investments, and income from membership fees. It is common for organizations to mix and match funds from varied funding streams to provide support for each portion of a more substantive training program. Funding is allocated to support staff members’ salaries, fringe benefits, contractual training services, equipment, operating costs, administrative oversight, training materials, supplies, capacity building, and professional development.
Workforce development curriculum has organic roots. Because training populations and funding resources vary regionally, there is no “one size fits all” curriculum that satisfies the needs of diverse training programs all over the world. Some organizations rely on administrators and program staff to provide training. Some hire external consultants who provide their own ready-made curriculum; some require staff to develop training materials; and some use any combination of the above.
Workforce development organizations generally include a combination of academic, life skills, and technical skills training within their training curriculum. Technical skills training is often industry-specific; it is designed to prepare individuals for entry into targeted career fields such as healthcare, environmental remediation, or environmental remediation, etc. Organizations develop curriculum that meets the goals of their funding schemes, that supports the organization’s mission, and that provides holistic services to training participants.