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Three Workforce Development Trends from the 2019 ACT Workforce Summit

It might take a village to raise a child, but it certainly takes a whole community to boost an economy. Educators, business and industry leaders, workforce and economic development professionals, government officials, workers, job seekers—we all have a stake in the regional and national economy, and we all affect its success or failure. 

The 400-strong crowd of attendees at this year’s ACT Workforce Summit, held in late October, know this fact better than most. ACT has specialized in bringing groups like this together for decades, offering them measurement, growth, and reporting tools to help them speak a common language based on the work-ready skills needed for regional economies to prosper. We were very proud to host this year’s event in Charlotte, North Carolina—our first-ever summit held in a participating ACT Work Ready Community.

The annual summit gives ACT staff an opportunity to interact and, most importantly, learn from individuals who are charged with creating a stronger, more robust, better-prepared workforce and an economy that works for everybody. That’s no small task. Here are some lessons we learned from this year’s presenters.

Trend No. 1—Career-Connected and Work-Based Learning are Here to Stay

Hans Meeder of the National Center for College and Career Transitions posed a question: why are so many well-educated, well-supported students struggling to succeed in adult life? He illustrated this “silent epidemic” with some sobering statistics:

  • 37% of four-year college students transfer schools at least once
  • 33% switch majors at least once 
  • 55% complete a bachelor’s degree within six years 
Meeder says career-connected learning is what’s missing. First, help students learn about possible careers. Help them with self-discovery—who they are, their interests, hoped-for salaries, length of education or training, and other factors. “When those pieces come together, it becomes a viable career pursuit,” Meeder said. “Career-connected learning is doable and we must make it happen.”

Another dominant theme: the rise of experiential, work-based learning in the form of apprenticeships, job shadowing, and other on-the-job learning. Andy Hepburn of GPS Education Partners said this is largely missing in the transition from high school to the next step.

“Work-based learning shouldn’t just be a capstone experience,” he said. “It takes an alignment of employers and educators speaking same language and building these experiences into a journey for students, and to do it at scale. We have an obligation to think about how making work-based learning more readily available for students. It starts with thinking about how to transform our educational and workforce systems to give every student that knock on the door.”

Sometimes, even small experiences in work-based learning pay large dividends. Sherrell Dorsey of BLKTECHCLT spoke of her Aunt Monica, who employed local youths in her hair salon to teach them the art and science of customer service and give them confidence and experience they could use in their careers—a confidence Dorsey eventually used to succeed at Microsoft. “Auntie Monica saw something worth investing in,” Dorsey said. “So did Microsoft.”

Trend No. 2—We Can’t Ignore Overlooked Populations

“We are faced with growing skills gaps that make it more and more difficult to find highly skilled individuals to fill crucial jobs, especially when the national unemployment rate is under 4%,” said ACT President of Measurement, Suzana Delanghe, in her opening remarks. This is why the workforce ecosystem is choosing to grow talent in previously overlooked populations, including:

  • Individuals who have been incarcerated
  • Individuals with disabilities 
  • Learners taking alternative paths to education 
  • Retired or near-retired individuals 
One great example of investing in these populations is happening in Omaha, Nebraska. Tammy Green of Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Omaha spoke of taking a skills-based approach to reforming and preparing incarcerated populations before their release. Many of these individuals lack a high school diploma and basic work skills. MCC’s programs offer career interest assessments and goal setting, work readiness and life skills courses, transition and employment support, and using the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate to close skill gaps.

The result: In 2019, participants have held a 90% retention rate six months after employment, against the national average of 50% for most industry sectors. “It takes a partnership throughout the entire community to develop access for everyone in that community,” Green said.

Trend No. 3—The Community Approach to Workforce Development is Where to Find Success

The summit’s annual ACT Work Ready Communities luncheon recognized 49 newly certified and maintained communities from across the country—a new record for the summit. The community- and team-based approach to workforce and economic development is a vital component because it gives all stakeholders a place at the table, speaking the same language and chasing the same economic development goals.

Jeff McCord of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development illustrated this approach at a statewide level. “In Tennessee, we rally around three principles: clear connections to employers, clear entry into the pipeline, and clear integration into economic development,” he said. “In building the ACT Work Ready Community network, that’s exactly the progress this group has made."

Click here to learn more about this year’s ACT Workforce Summit and its attendees. Join the conversation using #ACTWorkforce and find ACT Workforce Solutions on LinkedIn and Twitter. Subscribe to the Ready for Work podcast for episodes featuring 2019 Summit speakers.

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About ACT

ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Grounded in 60 years of research, ACT is a trusted leader in college and career readiness solutions. Each year, ACT serves millions of students, job seekers, schools, government agencies and employers in the US and around the world with learning resources, assessments, research and credentials designed to help them succeed from elementary school through career.