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Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc.: Adding Value to the Community

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Apr 15, 2011

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“We don’t create jobs, but we make sure that the jobs that are created can be filled,” says Nancy Dischinat, Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc. (LVWIB) in Pennsylvania. Nancy's peers pointed to her as a source of great ideas and an example of effective leadership. Here are a few of the observations and insights she shared with us.

Ensuring that those jobs find the right people is no easy task, especially in a changing economy. Businesses are getting smaller in her region. “There are only thirty companies left with over 1,000 workers, and most small firms employ between one and eleven,” Nancy noted.  She went on to argue, “We all need to be smarter—jobs are requiring a higher level of education and skills. Employers are no longer concerned with where a job applicant has worked in the past, they are concerned about what skills they will bring to the job, because they cannot spend the time and/or money retooling the worker once hired.” Her region has the second highest unemployment rate in the state and the type of individuals unemployed now include many professionals who have not accessed the Board's services before. Real wages are decreasing, with the newly re-employed taking jobs at 30-35% lower wages.

But Nancy is passionate about her work, pointing to a pair of tools that help her do her work effectively: 1) a holistic approach; and 2) and the triangle collaborative.

Holistic Approach

Nancy reminds us that that it takes a “holistic” approach to get those jobs filled. This is one thing she did not anticipate that her job would require. “I never thought I would have to be this holistic. Everything is connected to everything else”, she stated. “We must know all of the players - know about all of the resources within the community.  We act as the connectors, relationship builders and navigators within the system. We are the clearinghouse.”

How does she engage these partners? She listens to them. She asks them what they need and then helps them to get it. She also preaches that everyone needs to get engaged in solving community issues. She asks others “What have you done today to give back?” But she is careful about how much she asks of others, and always recognizes them for their contributions and value they have added.

Collaborative Triangle

Nancy participates in a collaborative “triangle” comprised of education, economic and workforce development. The role of economic development within the collaborative is to provide continuous environmental scanning.  Workforce development’s role in the collaborative is to be the connector between employers and education. This ensures education teaches the skills and provides the certifications required for high demand occupations.

As part of economic development’s role, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Center for Workforce Information and Analysis created a snapshot of the region’s economy. It identified the jobs and labor market outlook, including employment trends, high demand occupations, key industry clusters (leading to 6 industry partnerships) and the resources of the system. This helps Nancy and the community determine: 1) what types of jobs will be in demand in the future, 2) what skills and education will be required for each of those jobs, and 3) the best way to access each of those jobs. In fact, those words have become her mantra, and she discusses them with everyone she works with throughout the day, including businesses, educators, economic developers, and job seekers. 

Based on this information, the community decided to raise the education level of everyone in the region. They determined that the Associate’s degree would become the basic level of education within the community.  This was jointly funded by the community college and the ARRA funds received by the LVWIB. This initiative caught the attention of President Obama, who visited the region to learn more about the initiative.

As part of workforce development’s role in the collaborative triangle, Nancy asked educators what they needed and then helped them to get it. She hosted superintendent forums, and teacher and guidance counselor forums. She learned that schools needed connections to local businesses, something that Nancy and her agency already had developed.  This led to business/education partnerships, company tours for youth at local businesses, and one company that is teaching a class in high school showing how math is applied in the workplace. These discussions with education also led to colleges enhancing their teachers’ curriculum, and, identified one career awareness web tool that is used throughout education and workforce development called “Career Cruising.” The region is also in the process of creating and implementing a career pathways model.

The CareerLinking Academy is another outcome of the collaborative. This allows high school students to explore career interests, map career paths, and link to employment and education opportunities. This initiative began with all high school students and is now imbedded in business programs within the school.

Although most literacy coalitions focus on training individuals who cannot read at all or read at a very low level, this collaborative helped the literacy coalition to reverse its focus to those individuals who were close to completing and ready to move on to higher training and jobs.

To be successful in this collaborative requires Nancy and her agency to show how it adds value in the community.  She must demonstrate this “value added” every day to legislators, businesses, educators, economic developers, and the community as a whole. 

Working in collaboration to make these system changes, Nancy and the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Inc. are solving community issues.  As she stated, “We must be moving towards something—not just moving.”