“Only people involved in the local system understand what it means to be involved in local workforce development.”
That was a statement made to me by a longtime Local Workforce Board Director nearly four years ago, when I started in this industry. I came from the private sector, and in every job I had there were people who said the same type of thing, and I always took those statements with a grain of salt.
Looking back, four years later, I see how this time the statement was true.
When you ask someone who works at a strategic level in workforce development what it is they do, there is usually a deep breath and a montage of acronyms and duties that last well past the time when even the most astute listener would’ve been paying attention. It’s not that people in workforce development are long-winded, it’s simply that there is no easy way to describe what it is we do. Through messaging campaigns, advocacy work, and communications strategies many organizations have tried to boil it down to a simple phrase, or a short paragraph. But it does not suffice. And because of that, our system continues to be misunderstood by even lawmakers who authorize the program’s existence. The depth and breadth of work that local boards do is astounding, but never fully grasped.
This is why State Workforce Development Associations are so essential to the system.
If the messaging were easy and consistent across all local boards, then everyone could utilize the same phrasing and talk about their systems the same way. Because that isn’t the case, it is essential that the local system has an advocate who can aggregate the work of the system and disseminate the core messages in a meaningful, repeatable way to lawmakers, businesses, jobseekers, and the public. That advocate may come from a federal organization, but the truth is that trying to wrangle hundreds of boards with thousands of members is a task that is probably too hefty for even the best organizations. And while some states have a great state-to-local-board relationship, many simply don’t.
State Associations can take the often-confusing messages of the system and organize them in a way that appeals to those constituent groups who need to know the information. Along the way, a healthy state association will be able to have honest dialogue with their local members, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the system, and serving as a conduit for capacity building and technical assistance that can help defray the costs of those training offerings through strategic organizing within the state.
When a State Association is strong, it can form partnerships at the state level with entities that may sit outside of state government in a way that locals and the state itself cannot fully execute. These partnerships can lead to greater understanding and economies of scale, as organizations come together to find and achieve their collective goals, rather than remaining in (here comes a buzzword) silos.
CWA is happy to work with any local boards who are working towards developing state associations, or who just want to learn more. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help develop this essential piece of the workforce development system for your state.