One of the fundamental questions we asked in "The State of the U.S. Workforce System: A Time for Incremental Re-Alignment or Serious Change?" was:
What would a 21st century workforce system look like if we designed it for today's economy, using today's tools and processes?
More to the point, we wondered:
In the new economy, where and how can the public workforce system add true and targeted value?
These are the big questions with which we must grapple as a system. Our old ways of doing business are not as effective as they once were and if we fail to find good, innovative answers to these questions, we risk becoming irrelevant--or disappearing altogether.
I write this blog on the premise that there's a role for the public workforce system to play that is not being played by anyone else. There are gaps in the market that no one else is filling and plenty of areas where we can innovate our way into a new vision for serving our customers.
Our challenge as a system is to transform ourselves in ways that don't fit in with the strategies we've used in the past. We cannot simply tinker at the edges--we need to be thinking bigger and bolder if we really want to move forward.
Strategically, this means we have to be looking at the policy and planning implications of an economy where:
- There are fewer jobs to go around. (Currently there are three job seekers for every job opening)
- Technology and automation is rapidly transforming jobs as we know them--decimating entire occupational categories in a matter of a few years.
- Jobs are increasingly stratified, with job growth concentrated in low-skill, low wage jobs or in very technical, very specific occupations.
- Individuals are primarily responsible for their own professional development, but often lack the information and resources to anticipate and respond to rapidly changing skill requirements.
- Individuals are likely to experience more frequent and longer bouts of joblessness and risk having unemployment itself become the chief barrier to future work.
- Government funding for programs and services is decreasing, just as the need for these same services is increasing.
In this environment, we're challenged to think differently about a number of things, like what it means to have a job--should we be supporting job seekers in looking for jobs that are disappearing or should we be challenging them to develop multiple income streams with "a job" as only one part of household income?
Or how can we take advantage of things like social entrepreneurship and crowdfunding to bring in the revenues we need to provide services to our customers? What are the implications of these strategies for how we are organized as WIBs and One Stops? What alternative strategies might we need to consider in order to generate income?
On an operational level, some of the areas that offer particular promise for the workforce system include:
- Using free and low-cost technologies to provide more virtual services and to supplement the services we offer in face-to-face settings. We can increase both job seeker and business engagement, as well as improve the breadth and quality of our services by exploring better uses of readily available online technologies and resources.
- Experimenting with developing processes and protocols that embed new findings in behavioral science and positive psychology, particularly in providing services to job seekers.
- Developing programs and services that teach job seeker customers how to be successful an increasingly entrepreneurial work environment, where the "full-time, permanent" workers are being replaced by contract workers. This means educating workers in the key skills and activities of "solopreneurs" and finding ways to support them in developing multiple income streams, rather than focusing on the ever-elusive "full-time, permanent job."
- Utilizing the growth of "big data" tools and strategies to provide more efficient, effective services.
We are working in challenging times and it would be easy to throw up our hands or do more of the same. But we are operating in new realities that we are still coming to grips with and we must find the opportunities in these challenges, rather than falling back on how we've always operated.
That's what this blog is about--generating a bigger conversation about what we can be, given the new realities of our economy, and working together to experiment and evolve our way into a more resilient and responsive public workforce system.