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What excess capacity could mean for workforce development

  • Joanna
  • June 16, 2016

The base was enormous — far bigger than it had to be, given current national security needs. It was also sitting on top of some potentially prime commercial real estate — right in the middle of an urban area with one of the fastest growing economies in the nation.

That realization led U.S. Air Force officials and economic development leaders near Salt Lake City to scratch together plans for Falcon Hill — a sprawling aerospace research park on land formerly fenced off as part of one of the busiest military bases in the country. Five years after its opening, the commercial park added its first retail client — Starbucks calls its new shop a “military family store” since it’s run almost entirely by veterans and Air Force spouses. The bustling shop is always busy with airmen coming and going from the base and contractors from the dozens of nearby businesses. And, best of all, the lattes come with a free daily air show — courtesy of the base’s resident F-16 Fighting Falcons and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that routinely fly in for maintenance.

Few people would argue the win-win proposition that came along when the U.S. government recognized that its excess capacity could be a community gain. Even fewer people likely realize that Falcon Hill could also be a great model for workforce training programs.

Here’s what that means:

U.S. companies spend more than $160 billion each year on employee training, with more than $100 billion of that figure on internal training, according to the American Society of Training & Development. There do not appear to be any similar estimates for what federal, state and local governments spend on training, but considering that public employees make up about 15 percent of the nation’s workforce, we can safely add another $20 billion to the nation’s overall training budget.

That’s a lot of money. It’s also a lot of excess capacity.

Think back to the last time you were engaged in training at your job. Was every seat in the room taken? And if there had been just a few more “butts in seats,” would the training have been adversely impacted?

Now consider what might happen if training initiatives aimed at helping employees develop better skills, meet industry demands, or work in safer environments were opened up to just a few additional individuals from the community who have an interest — or, better yet, are already working toward certification — in an organization’s field of specialization.

Learning would happen. Contextualization would occur. Skills would be built. Connections would be made. And when those extra few trainees were ready to apply for a job with that organization they’d be a lot better prepared to hit the ground running.

Not every private or public training opportunity is right for this sort of arrangement – just like not every acre of Hill Air Force Base was right for commercial and retail development. But with just a little outside-the-box thinking, excess training capacity can be a tremendous win-win proposition.