The Different Faces of Workforce Development in Economic Development


By Chris Manheim, CEcD, MA, Certified Economic Developer®, Authorized ACT WorkKeys Job Profiler®

As Jim Walton often points out, the key site selection priority today is a skilled workforce, even ranking higher than location and infrastructure in many of the site selection surveys. But what is workforce development?

There are several aspects to consider. It really depends upon your needs, whether you are a company seeking a new location, a human resource department searching for quality applicants, or a community trying to attract new residents, among others. Let me attempt to define the various faces of workforce development, as I see it.

The 30,000 Feet View
Statistical services, such as EMSI, ESRI, and others provide key data for conducting labor shed analysis. Recently, rather than evaluating communities or regions from a traditional site selection focus, these services are now evaluating locations from a skilled labor perspective. For example, a community’s labor market is now being identified by elements such as skill clusters. These clusters are found in traditional prescriptive data sources like O*Net-SOC. Communities can then apply the identified regional skill clusters to differentiate the region from others, attract businesses, attract and develop talents (skills), find labor segments requiring retraining, up-skilling, and credentialing. Many economic development consultants, site selectors, and the data services conduct these labor studies.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention marketing as a vital component of this process. If economic developers want to see growth in both jobs and workers, they need to employ two different marketing strategies.

The first is marketing their community’s workforce development strategies and successes to site location professionals. This can include targeted marketing that showcases new or improved educational and apprenticeship programs and provides demographic information about the regional workforce.

The second is conducting aggressive outbound marketing. The key word here is outbound. The very nature of workforce attraction requires you to bring in talent from outside of your community. By marketing your community as a place for talent to work and live, you’ll be taking the first steps to addressing your workforce shortage challenges.

Apprenticeships have been a key for training in union and various trade associations for generations. The recent push by the U.S. Department of Labor and educational institutions to encourage employers to develop apprenticeships is based upon the traditional apprenticeship model used by the trades and the long-time Career & Technical Education programs. The DOL apprenticeships breakdown into four programs: Pre-Apprenticeship, Youth Apprenticeship, Registered Apprenticeship and Non-registered Apprenticeship. (Explaining each of these DOL programs is another topic for an article.) With funding now available for apprenticeships from DOL and state programs, community colleges and high school CTE programs are once again emphasizing this vocational education tool.

Skill Assessments
Having attended a program on the new DOL apprenticeships, the one step in the process that seemed to be glossed over as a responsibility of the employer is “Skill Assessment.” How does an employer determine which applicants should qualify for their job openings, particularly apprenticeships?

More often than not an employer or apprenticeship program receives far more applicants than positions (or classroom seats) available. This is where a standardized assessment of core skills, sometimes called foundational skills is used. One assessment used nationwide over the past twenty years is the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate.

Just yesterday, an example of this came up at a meeting with the Workforce Investment Board staff I was hosting on behalf of a municipal client. Examining the data of a local cluster (metal fabrication), the WIB and community college have been sending manufacturers job applicants for the job of production worker. Although carrying community college credentials, the applicants’ skills were not a match. As seen in much of the workforce literature of late, the colleges, employers and employees are not communicating. Profiling a job identifies the tasks required of an employee, then identifies the skills and level of skill required to function efficiently.

At another level, Location One, a site selection database, now includes the ACT Work Ready Communities Designation ( as a credential to be highlighted in its community profile data.

Employers need workers with the right skill sets now. Although apprenticeships are valuable in the long-term, most take several years to complete. Communications continue to be a challenge: Education and customized training programs are issuing credentials to students, but those skills may not fit the needs of employers. Likewise, employers need to identify the tasks and skills of a job. An O*Net job title or job description do completely tell the applicant or school what the job requires. Designations, such as Work Ready Communities, are already recognized by the site selection community and are incorporated into their searches.

Finally, a community or region can differentiate itself by earning these skill workforce certifications. These are real marketing tools.

For more information about Manheim Solutions, Inc., visit


An additional note: You can find more information about Brand Acceleration’s Self-Funding Workforce (and Resident) Attraction Marketing Initiative by visiting