Using a Business-Focused Format for Workforce Development

I wrote the following article in 2010 and it appeared in Expansion Solutions Magazine.



Workforce development is a critical and key issue for any economy, regardless of the state or region. Having the proper quantities of appropriately skilled employees can mean the difference
between success and failure for the expansion of existing business or the
introduction of new businesses. When the balance between supply and demand is
out of kilter, especially when there is an insufficient quantity of the right skillsets
when an economy is growing, it provides challenges that can deter or eliminate
the future viability of existing or new segments of business. One example would be the Middle Tennessee region around Nashville. This region has a diverse economy
with good supplies of workers at all levels in business segments such as manufacturing,
financial services and education.

Expansion of these types of businesses can occur without much
intervention because of the depth of these types of roles. This is not as easily done in some other
business segments such as healthcare services, logistics, architectural and engineering design or in the construction industry, especially in the trades. These market
segments are present, but not in sufficient quantities to meet the rising
demand of local and national clients who seek the expertise that has developed
in this geography, especially in the area of healthcare facility design. As a result,
there is a shortage of appropriately skilled employees in each of these job
markets. A national shortage of engineers only makes this problem worse and the
aging of the workforce, especially among baby boomers, makes this an almost
chronic problem.

Several factors have driven the growth of the design industry so that this
lack of qualified staff is apparent. One such factor has been the growth of the
healthcare services sector in the Middle Tennessee region. This industry was
given birth in the late 1960’s with the start of HCA and the growth in this new
market has been geometric. One offshoot of this new market growth has been the
need for healthcare facility construction and renovation both locally and in many
parts of the country. The fact that so many leaders in this industry started and
grew their careers here has also driven the parallel growth for design services
in healthcare facilities. This growth in healthcare has also surpassed the local
economy’s ability to produce sufficient workers in many essential healthcare
services roles, with nursing being just the tip of the iceberg.

One group that is actively working with employers to identify and quantify
the needs as well as help provide funds to help lessen this problem is the Middle
Tennessee Workforce Investment Board. (MTWIB). This group is presently
working with employers in four industry segments, including the design and
construction sector, to identify the most chronic job types where shortages exist
and then to offer funds that can be used to take existing or potential employees
and provide them the necessary skills to lessen the pain. Other industry
segments that are being explored include healthcare services, logistics and IT
services. Similar processes are taking place in these segments at the same time
as what will be described in this article.

The first steps of this process have involved focus group sessions where
experts from each business type discuss with MTWIB staff what they see as the
biggest needs and also in identifying others within the local industry that can
also provide input. The second step will involve contacting
a broader audience in the design and construction field by using the networks
already established through associations such as ASHRAE, TSPE, AGC, ABC and
many other industry-specific groups. By getting a wider cross section involved,
we hope to also communicate what types of resources will be
available for the recurring job types and how to go
about securing the funds that are available. Similar
efforts are also taking place in the healthcare,
logistics and IT markets. The intent of this process
is not an apprenticeship program that will
provide the skills and knowledge that will
be transferred by these efforts. On the contrary,
this effort is more about helping connect existing providers with identified needs
and facilitating methods to match them as well as providing funding to make the
process flow.

None of us can accurately predict the future and “guess” where workforce
development efforts should apply their efforts. Forging cooperative relationships
between business and governmental entities such as the MTWIB will certainly
make the process more effective and focused, taking a “rifle versus shotgun”
approach to making funding available in our area. In a time where resources
are tight due to a slowing economy this kind of effort can be a template for more
effective utilization of resources both now and in the future.