State and Metro Collaboration Critical to Increasing Middle-Skill Manufacturing Jobs in U.S. Cities

Posted by Ronda Jackson on

Despite the great recession, U.S. cities are uniquely positioned to be drivers of national prosperity and individual economic opportunity. Unfortunately, many systems at both the state and city level that could move the economy forward are fragmented and ineffective. Last month, state and local economic and workforce development leaders gathered at the Brookings/Living Cities State and Metropolitan Prosperity Collaborative meeting to discuss the development of effective cross-sector strategies to increase the number of middle-skill jobs in the growing manufacturing sector. The two-day gathering provided opportunities for high-performing public sector leaders to share innovative ideas and promising practices and to learn from each other’s successes and struggles.

The U.S. manufacturing industry has the potential to address regional high unemployment in struggling economies. Currently there are 300,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in the U.S., with an expected 750,000 additional jobs
to be added in the next 10 years. These manufacturing jobs usually offer good wages, and often only require a two-year post-secondary degree or an even shorter-term
certificate-training program. In order to lessen the growing skills gap, state and local leaders are developing deep cross-sector collaborations and innovative practices to effectively connect those looking for employment to a vast array of available manufacturing positions.

The economic and workforce challenges facing state and local leaders are significant. With national unemployment at just under 8% and some regions dealing with even higher figures, putting people back to work and reviving local economies is a top priority for the state and metro leaders who attended the convening. Key barriers to a high-performing workforce and economic development collaborations that many of the attendees are working to overcome are: bureaucratic silos, weak industry and cross-sector partnerships, lack of incentives for success, and poor state and metro implementation of workforce development strategies. Below are examples of effective strategies to create middle-skill jobs highlighted at the convening:

Strong Industry Partnerships – Small and mid-size businesses continue to be the engine of the U.S. economy. The 21st century manufacturing industry is comprised not only of large firms, but also includes small and medium-sized firms that require a steady supply of skilled workers that reside in cities and metropolitan areas. Many of these manufacturing firms do not have human resources departments. Economic and workforce development leaders need to form deep partnerships with industry leaders in order to align education and training with industry and private sector needs. In Washington State, local workforce boards (LWIBs) convene sector-specific industry skill panels that bring together employers, labor organizations, and education and training
organizations to identify and address current and near-future skill needs. In Kansas and Washington, industry centers of excellence were created. Through these centers (which are often housed at community colleges), industry leaders work with faculty to ensure that training curricula are continually updated and modernized to meet employer needs.

Deep Cross-Sector Partnerships – Partnerships like the greater Cincinnati’s Partners
for a Competitive Workforce
, which brings together businesses, workforce investment boards, chambers of commerce, educational institutions, labor, community organizations, and philanthropic funders is an effective model of a partnership for improved population-level results. Cincinnati’s Partners is also an example of a cross sector partnership using the “one table” approach – a leadership table comprised of key decision-makers representing a wide range of institutions coming together to achieve a better result. This partnership allows them to move beyond fragmented systems to increase the region’s success in decreasing the skills gap.

Funding Incentives– Kansas utilizes funding incentives to encourage workforce-training outcomes that align with regional industry needs and strengthen the economy. Kansas’
strategy is a reorientation of policies and funding streams to invest in the future of the states’ young workers instead of managing the decline of both the educational and workforce systems. Universities received $101 million in state funding to enhance the number of engineering graduates. In order to maintain that funding, those higher education institutions were required to grow the number of engineering graduates, make sure those graduates were connected to Kansas businesses, and received interviews for available positions. Their funding strategy further incentivized educational institutions by providing a differential pay rate to colleges for FTE production in technical programs based on the cost of the technical program.

State Leadership, Local Implementation – In structuring their state-wide strategy, both
Kansas and Washington aimed to be clear on the goal and flexible on implementation. This meant that the state would take the lead in developing the framework for the overall regional workforce and economic development strategy, but the metro regions would control how that strategy is implemented at the local level. A critical element of this model is having clearly defined outcome metrics developed in partnership with business and industry leaders. These outcome metrics measure the number of industry credentials earned, job placements attained, and number of living-wage salaries workers received.

Fast Tracking Credentials –In Washington, workforce and economic development partnerships are shortening the time it takes workers to get industry-valued credentials,
another example of a state/metro collaboration that is nimble and adaptable. A variety of strategies are under way, including working with industry to establish short-term, stackable credentials, and creating protocols for granting credit for prior learning or work experience outside of the training program. This way, the training programs are responsive to both the workers breadth of experience and the needed skills articulated
by employers.

Bridging Economic and Workforce Development Silos – Another example of public sector collaboration and agility are the efforts by state and metro leaders to bridge
silos
between workforce and economic development. Across the nation, state and local economic development leaders court industry executives to set up shop in their regions without their workforce development counterparts at the table. Kansas is a leader in bridging those silos by having their Director of Workforce Education and Training jointly appointed to the state’s Department of Commerce and Board of Regents. In Washington, local workforce boards develop strategic plans in partnership with local economic development agencies, while at the state level; the Workforce Board and Economic Development Commission have overlapping memberships.