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3 ways a state with already high employment is building its workforce improvement plan

  • Joanna
  • May 18, 2016

The U.S. labor force is dominated by 45 to 60 year olds — a fact that is leading many people to fret over the stress that will hit the labor market when the baby boom generation retires en masse.

That’s not a big concern in Utah, though, where the labor force is dominated by 25 to 40 year olds.

So what do you get when you have ideal age demographics to avoid a coming labor crisis, historically low unemployment, and strong continued job growth projected many years into the future?

Well, a bit of a problem, as it turns out.

A reading of Utah’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Unified State Plan shows the Beehive State’s biggest economic concern appears to be its ability to maintain a sufficient labor supply. That has the state looking for ways to attract out-of-state talent, and trying to figure out the best ways to leverage WIOA-funded programs to help feed the apparently insatiable appetites of employers in six economic clusters: information technology; aerospace; life sciences; finance; energy and natural resources; and outdoor products.

How will Utah be doing that? Here’s part of its plan:

  1. Involve employers. A lot of job training programs seek to prepare participants for any job. That’s not good enough anymore. And since the people who know best what they need from government-sponsored workforce improvement initiatives are employers themselves, Utah’s WIOA plan calls for the state to leverage existing partnerships with employers — and develop new ones — to ensure the state’s training programs are aligned with what businesses actually need, and that those programs stay flexible enough to respond to emerging needs.
  2. Open and honest communication. To make Utah’s plan work, employers are going to need to articulate exactly what they require from the workforce. At the same time, the state will seek to encourage employers to set realistic expectations when it comes to experience and education. (There’s no need, after all, to demand an applicant have a master’s degree in transportation engineering if what the job really requires is a commercial driver’s license.) Finally, the state will be asking employers to create and demonstrate they have accessible hiring practices for individuals with barriers to employment, but who — perhaps with a bit of help — could become exceptionally valuable employees.
  3. An active feedback loop. Utah’s plan also calls for the state to actively engage employers in the effort to create career pathways, starting in secondary education settings. The important question here is: “What are the ‘real life’ skills that employees need?” The answer to that question will be used to re-tool educational offerings accordingly.