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Ask the Expert

Why is it a challenge for workforce development strategies to prepare workers for future jobs, and how can they contribute to local economic growth?

As appeared in the Cleveland Fed Digest's Ask the Expert

Workforce development—training and education to help enhance people’s lives through career advancement—can be difficult because the economy is always changing and the labor force is always changing with it, and it’s hard to project what the jobs and necessary skills of the future will be. For instance, in trying to forecast what jobs will be needed in a region, there might be a company that leaves and there might be a company that enters, and either one could change the skills that are needed locally. It’s a moving target.

One important contribution workforce development strategies can make is to provide clarity in terms of what skills translate into current and future career paths. For example, there are countries that have what are called “occupational standards” that outline the skills and certifications that are needed to enter occupations and to advance in the field, so there’s a clear roadmap for people. Parts of the United States are moving toward this model of set occupational standards. I talk to so many people who say they wish when they were younger that they had had a better understanding of all the job opportunities that existed and the skills that would be needed for particular jobs. Occupational standards could give them that information.

With an unemployment rate around 4 percent, employers are having to look in places they hadn’t looked before to find qualified workers. There are manufacturers that could be running at full capacity but aren’t because they can’t find enough employees to fill open positions that require certain skillsets. So, there’s more pressure for the workforce development system to attract and develop enough workers to meet the needs of regional employers and to help companies and the economy grow.

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