What Is Workforce Development? Basics and Examples

What Is Workforce Development? Basics and Examples

Workforce development is a holistic approach to improving a company’s access to a qualified workforce by working with local organizations. Effective programs address numerous areas including  educational opportunities, skill development, employment needs, career advancement, skill gaps and well-being. By investing in workforce development, companies can strengthen community relationships, attract top talent, improve employee retention, and increase productivity and profitability.

In this guide, we’ll dive deeper into the basics of workforce development and provide real-world examples of successful workforce programs.

What is workforce development?

The definition of workforce development is the process of identifying and addressing the needs of a local workforce to improve productivity and competitiveness. It includes planning, training, and developing policies and educational programs.

At its core, workforce development is about building a strong, sustainable labor supply that can meet the needs of businesses and industries in a particular community or region. The process is a critical component of economic development and community-building.

Why is workforce development important?

Workforce development is incredibly important for businesses because it helps ensure access to skilled workers in a competitive labor market.

Local governments that invest in workforce development programs can create a pool of highly skilled workers tailored to local industry needs. This investment can attract new businesses to the area and also helps existing businesses grow.

Job training vs. workforce development

Job training and workforce development are two distinct concepts in an overall talent development strategy.

  • Job training focuses on teaching employees the specific skills and knowledge they need to perform their jobs.
  • Workforce development is a broader investment in the company’s and community’s future, aimed at building a pipeline of skilled workers and increasing the organization’s overall human capital. It often involves assessing skill gaps and addressing them through high-level community planning programs and internal company initiatives.

Example in manufacturing

  • Job training. A manufacturing company provides on-the-job training for new employees to learn how to operate their machinery. An experienced manager provides this training during the first few weeks of employment.
  • Workforce development. The same manufacturing company partners with a technical college to develop an ongoing training program for their machine operators, preparing employees for leadership positions within the company.

Example in health care

  • Job training. A health care company provides on-the-job training for newly hired medical assistants. The company pairs them with experienced medical assistants who act as mentors for skill development.
  • Workforce development. The same health care company partners with a community college to create an apprenticeship program for medical assistants. The program provides learning opportunities through classroom instruction and hands-on training where apprentices work alongside experienced medical professionals to gain practical experience.

Types of workforce development

Workforce development is not a one-size-fits-all solution. This section explores the most common types of workforce development and their benefits.

Training and education

Training and education are integral to any successful workforce development program. These resources help the workforce perform well in the present and equip the team for future opportunities.

Workforce development training and education can come in many forms:

  • Certifications
  • Postsecondary education
  • Upskilling
  • Professional development courses
  • Mentorship programs
  • On-the-job training
  • Apprenticeships

When developing employee skills for broader or future needs, businesses often train the workforce in soft skills like communication and team-building. Investing in certifications your team can use for career development is another way to prepare for future growth.

Examples of workforce development training and education include:

  • A chief operating officer arranges for mid-level managers to attend an executive development training program.
  • A manufacturing company creates customer awareness and marketing training programs for all employees to improve customer service.
  • A community college works with local industries to develop apprenticeship programs that lead to certification and an associate’s degree.

Fortunately, plenty of workforce development training and education resources are available. Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014 to strengthen workforce development systems across the United States.

Workforce development resources include:

Job placement and career counseling

Job placement and career counseling are fundamental aspects of workforce development programs. Career counseling helps job seekers understand the job market and options for new employment and promotions. Job placement services connect individuals with jobs that match various interests, skills, and experience.

Examples of job placement and career counseling include:

  • Offering job placement and career counseling services to help workers adjust as a company expands or downsizes.
  • Providing aptitude assessments to help employees determine best-fit careers.
  • Providing cross-training and structured development programs to expose workers to other areas of job interest.
  • Establishing a career counseling office with coaching on resume writing and other job application processes, with access to internal job openings.

Recent research indicates that career counseling is effective in helping unemployed workers find meaningful work. A 2021 study by the National Institutes of Health showed that more than 40% of long-term unemployed people who received career counseling “in the post‐COVID‐19 world” acquired a job within two months, and more than 85% were employed after six months. The study also found that career counseling helped people gain self-knowledge, explore career goals, build self-confidence, reduce negative thoughts and feelings, and address factors impeding their career advancement.

By providing guidance on career pathways and giving people access to personalized job search resources, career counselors help connect companies with communities while meeting individual needs along the way.

Workforce innovation and collaboration

Workforce innovation and collaboration is essential to workforce development, especially during economic disruption. It involves businesses, educational institutions, communities, unions, and other stakeholders working together to develop new strategies and solutions to respond to workforce trends, fill gaps in the labor market, and increase job opportunities.

A recent study by Korn Ferry projected that 85 million jobs could be unfilled by 2030 due to a lack of qualified workers. These findings demonstrate the need for innovative workforce development strategies. Innovation, enterprise adaptation, and collaboration are essential for successful workforce development initiatives.

For example, McKinsey & Company published a 2020 report which examined how employers are reskilling employees to address talent gaps. The report encouraged employers to collaborate with multiple providers, such as online platforms, universities, and technical organizations, to provide adequate learning resources when upskilling their employees.

Companies may also need to upskill workers to prepare for digital transformation. Employers might adopt fluid workforce models, hire freelancers, or provide training to help leadership manage remote teams successfully. Innovative methods like these can help ensure communities have an adequate workforce now and in the future.

The benefits and barriers to workforce development

Understanding the benefits and challenges of workforce development is crucial for businesses to implement development programs successfully.

Benefits of workforce development

  • A reliable source of skilled labor. By offering career advancement opportunities, companies create a pipeline of skilled workers to meet future labor needs. Such programs also help individuals find stable work and better support their dependents, solidifying the local economy.
  • Economic growth and development. Because workforce development can lead to job creation and a skilled workforce, it also contributes to economic growth in communities. This development can attract new businesses and industries, increasing economic opportunities for all. Keeping workers employable and employed is a big benefit to the whole community.
  • Improved employee engagement and well-being. Investing in the development of employees demonstrates a commitment to their professional growth and well-being, leading to higher job satisfaction and motivation, which can increase productivity and reduce turnover.
  • Career advancement opportunities. Workforce development can provide employees with the skills and credentials needed to advance in their careers and earn higher wages, benefitting the individual, the employer, and the economy as a whole.

Barriers to workforce development

  • Inability to predict future labor needs. The inability to perfectly predict the long-term labor needs of a particular industry or region can make stakeholders unwilling to risk investing in training.
  • Limited access to higher education. Higher education is often necessary for individuals to gain the skills and knowledge needed for certain industries. Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to higher education due to financial or geographical barriers.
  • Resistance to change. Employers or employees may resist changing their practices or learning new skills, which can hinder workforce development efforts.
  • Lack of immediate application after training. Employees may not be able to apply their newly acquired skills immediately, leading to skill decay and discouraging further investment in workforce development.

Workforce development FAQ

It’s natural for businesses and individuals to have questions about workforce development programs, including their implementation, efficacy, and impact. This section will address some of the most frequently asked questions regarding workforce development.

How can I ensure my organization is investing in workforce development?

It’s important to provide your workforce with access to resources such as online courses, workshops, and seminars. These resources can help employees build their skills and knowledge in areas relevant to their job duties and prepare them for future career opportunities.

Additionally, make sure your workforce is up-to-date on the latest industry trends and technologies. You can help them stay current through partnerships with industry associations, networking events, and other professional development opportunities.

How does the community play a role in workforce development?

The community can play a vital role in developing workforces in different industries by providing training opportunities, nonprofit support, and apprenticeship programs.

Let’s take the example of when a state loses a good share of its industry, such as the textile industry going away due to off-shore manufacturing. In such scenarios, state and local agencies may step in with training programs to retrain workers for other growing industries.

In addition, the community can support local training programs. For example, nonprofit organizations could partner with local community colleges to offer training opportunities or apprenticeship programs. High schools could offer vocational programs to help students gain hands-on experience in high-demand industries.

Invest in your workforce with Upwork

Workforce development is a crucial investment for any organization wanting to succeed in today’s dynamic job market. Addressing skill gaps, supporting employee well-being, and offering career advancement opportunities, helps companies attract and retain top talent while increasing productivity and profitability.

If you’re a business looking to invest in workforce development, Upwork has talented workforce development professionals who can help you implement a program that meets your needs.

If you’re a workforce development professional looking for work, Upwork can help you find workforce development job opportunities.

Investing in workforce development is good for businesses and employees and is essential for society’s economic and social progress. Visit Upwork and get started on your company’s vital workforce development program.

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What Is Workforce Development? Basics and Examples
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