The Power of Sector Strategies: Meeting the Needs of Workers and Employers

Posted June 16, 2014, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Blog thepowerofsectorstrategies 2014

For two decades, the Casey Foun­da­tion has sup­port­ed sec­tor-based work­force devel­op­ment as a strat­e­gy for increas­ing jobs and career oppor­tu­ni­ties for low-income, low-skilled adults. Sec­tor strate­gies engage busi­ness­es in sim­i­lar indus­tries — such as health care or man­u­fac­tur­ing — that need skilled employ­ees and then con­nects them to appro­pri­ate employ­ment-train­ing orga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices. These col­lab­o­ra­tions pro­duce skilled work­ers for employ­ers, wage and ben­e­fit increas­es for work­ers and greater sys­tem effi­cien­cy for work­force investors. 

In 1995, Casey first includ­ed sec­tor strate­gies as a key com­po­nent of its eight-year, six-site Jobs Ini­tia­tive and has since invest­ed in a vari­ety of oth­er approach­es for build­ing the sec­tor work­force field. As the Jobs Ini­tia­tive drew to a close, Casey joined with oth­er fun­ders to even­tu­al­ly form the Nation­al Fund for Work­force Solu­tions, a net­work of fun­ders in 31 places that sup­port sec­tor part­ner­ships. As part of this process, we pro­duced a book in 2004 on sec­tor work­force strate­gies, Work­force Inter­me­di­aries for the Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry.

Today we reflect on sec­tor work­force strate­gies because of the pol­i­cy and eco­nom­ic chal­lenges we now face, the field’s achieve­ments and the renewed efforts to improve the qual­i­ty of jobs in low-wage sec­tors, such as home health care, retail and food ser­vice. At the same time, the role of com­mu­ni­ty col­leges and post­sec­ondary cre­den­tials are gain­ing momen­tum in pub­lic and phil­an­thropic spheres. These train­ing approach­es focus on mid­dle-skill jobs, devel­op­ing edu­ca­tion path­ways so that peo­ple can obtain the skills nec­es­sary for jobs with fam­i­ly-sup­port­ing incomes. 

Still, the slow eco­nom­ic recov­ery has seen the loss of many skilled jobs and an increase in the num­ber of low-wage ones, with per­sis­tent­ly high rates of unem­ploy­ment and a decline in over­all labor force par­tic­i­pa­tion. Polit­i­cal stale­mate and busi­ness reluc­tance to invest in the career devel­op­ment of low-skilled work­ers makes it espe­cial­ly impor­tant to reflect on the strengths of the sec­tor approach as we think about ways to address these big challenges.

Rec­og­niz­ing these chal­lenges, we saw the need for a fol­low-up vol­ume on sec­tor strate­gies from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives. Coedit­ed with Mau­reen Con­way of the Aspen Insti­tute, Con­nect­ing Peo­ple to Work: Work­force Inter­me­di­aries and Sec­tor Strate­gies fea­tures an array of non­prof­it lead­ers, pol­i­cy experts, aca­d­e­mics and prac­ti­tion­ers — all chart­ing what we have learned and where the field should go in the decades ahead. We want to engage work­force prac­ti­tion­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, investors and researchers in a con­ver­sa­tion about the sec­tor field and its oppor­tu­ni­ties, chal­lenges and future directions.

The sec­tor work­force field has accom­plished a lot in two decades, from wide­spread repli­ca­tion, state pol­i­cy inno­va­tions and strong eval­u­a­tion results. But it faces major chal­lenges in the com­ing years: the need for major pol­i­cy wins, adapt­ing sec­tor approach­es to improve job qual­i­ty and inte­grat­ing sec­tor strate­gies with com­mu­ni­ty col­lege cre­den­tials. We con­clude the book by ask­ing phil­an­thropy and oth­er pub­lic and pri­vate stake­hold­ers to stay the course in sup­port­ing sec­tor work­force strate­gies and help us expand our vision for greater impact and scale.

We look for­ward to a robust con­ver­sa­tion around these issues in the com­ing weeks and months as the book’s authors share their views in var­i­ous forums. To learn more about Con­nect­ing Peo­ple to Work, I invite you to down­load a free copy of the intro­duc­to­ry chap­ter, which I wrote with Mau­reen, and to vis­it the Aspen Institute’s web­site for addi­tion­al resources and infor­ma­tion on order­ing a copy.

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