Workforce Development: What Motivates States to Act?

Postsecondary & Workforce

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This is the third installment of a three-part blog series on workforce development. Per federal legislation, each state must create a workforce development board that meets requirements regarding membership and functions. However, states go above those requirements to best serve their own workforce needs. This series digs deeper into how states expand their board membership to include key stakeholders, go beyond their required charge and act on various motivators for greater economic development gains.

Over the last month we explored the how of workforce development, but what motivates states to act?

See our infographic for more on workforce development systems.

Recent reports suggest that if certain educational and training gaps aren’t filled, there is the potential to lose $1.7 trillion in economic productivity by 2030. The numbers are compelling; however, workforce development activity, programs and policy within a state are primarily driven by actions from state leaders and stakeholders. As discussed in our past blog posts, federal policy serves as a base motivator for states to organize and engage in workforce development; however, additional motivators — such as governor priorities, legislative action, attainment goals and the need to connect education to workforce needs — serve as motivators behind workforce development in states.

Governor Priorities

Leadership around workforce development comes in many forms, and governors play a role in prioritizing it — specifically by aligning both workforce and economic development in their priorities and agendas. Earlier this year, 35 governors prioritized workforce development in their State of the State addresses.

Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina created NC Job Ready. Through his leadership and collaboration among workforce stakeholders, the initiative provides people with opportunities to pursue education and training that will allow them to access jobs in high-demand fields. The initiative offers 34 career pathways for individuals that align education and training with skills needed in high-demand fields.

Legislative Action

Outside of governor’s leadership, legislatures support and retain individuals pursuing workforce education and training aligned with fields central to the economic growth of the state. This year, North Dakota passed H.B. 1171, creating and appropriating funds for the Skilled Workforce Loan Repayment Program and the Skilled Workforce Scholarship Fund. To be eligible for either program, individuals must complete an educational program in a high-demand field as identified by the department of higher education and workforce development council. Recipients must reside in the state and work in the high-demand field.

Postsecondary Attainment Goals

At least 44 states have established attainment goals and state plans. An increasing number of states are considering ways to connect attainment goals with workforce needs and industries that drive economic growth in their state.

For example, Iowa, through its Future Ready Iowa initiative, connects workforce and economic development needs with an attainment goal. Through the initiative, Iowa set a goal to have 70 percent of the workforce with education and training beyond high school by 2025. The initiative supports pathways for both high school students and adults to access education and training that lead to a credential. The goal is to build Iowa’s talent pipeline and provide people with an opportunity to gain education and training to earn a living wage in a high-demand field.

In an ever-evolving economy, state leaders and workforce stakeholders are motivated to find ways that connect economic growth, workforce development and postsecondary attainment. Beyond creating a trained workforce, states work to retain talent and place individuals in high-demand fields. Through strong leadership and a willingness to align economic and workforce development needs, states can create a future that has a trained and educated workforce that drives their economy.

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Senior Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States |

As a senior policy analyst, Tom contributes to the work of the policy team on issues across the education spectrum. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Tom taught middle school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tom is dedicated to providing state policymakers with quality research that supports them in making a positive impact on students' lives.

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Assistant Director at Education Commission of the States |

In her role, Lexi oversees project management for Education Commission of the States' policy work. Lexi has more than 10 years of experience working as a higher education administrator and policy analyst, with the past five years focused on postsecondary transition policies. When Lexi is not immersed in the education policy world, she can be found running, skiing or exploring with her toddler in the mountains.

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