Nationally, we’re at a critical juncture in workforce development. Now, most of you might be thinking, “what the heck is workforce development?” and rest assured there’s more definition in the rest of this post. But for now, what’s important to know is that our labor market, our education systems, and our communities have changed significantly in recent years, but our workforce development system hasn’t. It’s still largely built to respond to the job seekers and businesses of 50 years ago, not the global knowledge economy. It hasn’t adapted to job seekers with diverse experiences, skills and educations; or the pervasive ways that technology has altered almost every aspect of our lives.
Over the next few decades, we’re going to experience some significant changes to our labor force due to:
- The retirement of the baby boom population
- Growth in our population aged 65+
- Significant diversification of our working age population and overall stagnation in the size of that population.
All of this means that we’re going to experience shortages in the labor market. In fact, today Minnesota has a labor shortfall of more than 98,000 jobs unfilled across all business sectors. This is expected to rise to 278,000 by 2022 if nothing changes. This is on top of existing disparities—some of the worst in the nation—for workers from communities of color and American Indian communities in educational attainment, employment, and earnings.
If we don’t close these gaps and strengthen the workforce development system overall, businesses won’t be able to meet demand, and consumers (individuals and businesses) will go elsewhere with their money. We will all bear the consequences of this in stagnant economic growth, fewer opportunities, reduced public resources, and lowered quality of life.
What is the Workforce Development System?
Simply and broadly put, it’s the marketplace that supports job seekers in gaining new skills and employment opportunities, while helping businesses identify and find qualified candidates to join their teams.
It includes programs like the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP, commonly known as “welfare”), Dislocated Worker Programs (which serve individuals whose job transitions are due to company decisions pertaining to location, etc.), Unemployment Insurance which provides income support during job transition for those with work histories, tuition supports for students in post-secondary programs, and funds that support businesses in providing their current employees with training and development (MN Job Skills Partnership).
Job seekers, and especially low-income job seekers, run into challenges with identifying the right training opportunities for their skills, experiences and interests. Disparities in educational attainment, employment and earnings hurt our communities. In fact, if we closed earnings and employment disparities alone, we would add $20 billion (yes, that’s a B!) to our regional economy each year.
At Greater Twin Cities United Way, we focus our resources and the generosity of our donors on access and quality for low-income job seekers, especially those from communities of color and American Indians, to gain new skills and find employment opportunities that support their families.
What’s the solution?
While there’s not one quick fix for all the challenges our workforce is facing, there’s hope on the horizon. We need to invest in a robust nonprofit field of training and employment providers. We must advocate for more transparent and equitable public investments to close disparities in earnings and employment. Leaders across many sectors must evaluate their recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement practices to ensure they’re able to find and keep the talent they’re seeking.
We need a flexible, responsive and focused workforce development system, one that is regional in its scope—so that where a person lives doesn’t determine the quality of the training they can access or determine where a business finds access to qualified employees. It’s going to take all of us to do this and to do it well.
Modernizing and strengthening the workforce development system is important for us all. Our families, businesses, and communities depend on it.
What can you do?
Read about our recent event, The Future is Now—Preparing Minnesota’s Workforce for a Thriving Tomorrow where we’ll explore workforce and economic trends that are critical to our region’s vitality and long-term competitiveness.
Give – Your support will remove barriers to good jobs, helping people in our community reach their full potential.
Volunteer – Help job seekers prepare for and find the employment they need.
As a senior program manager in Community Impact, Rachel oversees an annual grants portfolio of $5 million, partnering with nonprofits working to advance education and career opportunities for low-income adults in the Twin Cities area. In addition to grant-making, her work involves collaboration with philanthropic funders, city, county and state agencies, and community-based organizations to support collaboration, increase transparency and structure policies to increase access and quality across human services.
Learn more about United Way’s Jobs for All initiative.
 Developed by Erin Olson at Real Time Talent (2017). Sources: US Census Bureau Population Estimates Program, 2015; IPUMS US Census Bureau American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2015; MN Demographic Center Population Projections; Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.