Workforce Development is Serious Business

Feb 26, 2011

Public Service Matters.

So much of what dominates communication in the field of workforce development is bad news: unemployment, layoffs, skill gaps, and on and on. Even inside the field, strategy conversations can feel like a series of relentless, uphill battles – the reauthorization of federla legislation, chronic (federal, state, city, county) budget shortfalls, contracting issues, performance metrics, major initiatives like integrated services – all important, but ultimately not why today's leaders entered the profession.

Over and over we heard stories of leaders who happened upon entry-level positions in the field, only to realize they could contribute to improving economic, social, and educational opportunities for their neighbors, communities, and the nation. Individuals who's family members received help when they needed it (or did not) inspired many of the leaders with whom we spoke to make sure opportunities for the next generation were not just a matter of luck, but there by design.

These leaders expressed a strong commitment to publc service and expected the same of their peers and colleagues, even as they lamented how "systems" could sometimes get in the way of good intentions.

We are grateful for the many workforce leaders who gave their time, and shared their personal and professional insights
in ways that helped us appreciate the depth of their commitment to
what many decribed as a sort of calling.

The Subject of Leadership Silenced the Noise. 

Our project team comprises experienced interviewers and researchers. We were surprised by the power the lens of "leadership" brought to our discussions. We have asked leaders, as heads of organizations or in other formal roles, about priorities and goals many times. Generally, they share well-crafted strategic language suited to policy documents, but it tends to need unpacking. When we asked them, as leaders in the field, about their priorities, they tended to put down their scripts and speak plainly about the issues that matter to them and why.

We learned much from them and hope to share it widely.


"Workforce leadership requires a genuine understanding of issues, resources, and metrics – there has to be a business case for the effort. Honesty is crucial, and it helps if leadership has a genuine passion for the issues." – Laurie, WIB Director

"I'm happy to have dedicated career people – it's not just a job to them." Roy, Program Director

"Leaders do real things. Last year, we put 15,000 young people to work. The need is 70,000, but now everyone knows it and a partnership is taking root." Robert, Department Manager