When the Workforce Investment Act was first passed in 1998, part of its vision was to provide all workers with access to a certain set of core services that would help them thrive in the job market. In practice, this hasn't really happened in most American Job Centers/One Stops. The bulk of customers we serve tends to be unemployed and our work with them ends once they find a job.
This is a problem because it means that we're engaging in crisis managment with job seekers most of the time, rather than in the sort of "preventive medicine" that could go a long way toward averting unemployment in the first place.
This short-term, crisis mode of thinking keeps us trapped in a revolving door with job seekers where the focus is just on "getting a job," rather than on "how do I manage a career in a world where I can't count on my company to be responsible for that?"
One of the questions Kathy Krepcio and I asked in our State of the US Workforce System report was:
What do 21st century job seekers REALLY need from us in the new economy?
I would argue that what they most need is guidance in developing the career management skills that will help them adapt to ongoing uncertainty and that will help them thrive in an economy that is changing rapidly. This means that we need to develop long-term relationships with people in our communities, not just providing the short-term, crisis management kinds of help we currently focus on.
From the Emergency Room to Preventive Medicine
In the past, the "quick fix" supports of educational workshops on resume writing, interviewing, etc. that we offered in core services were appropriate because jobs were relatively plentiful and periods of unemployment tended to be short and far between. Many workers might never experience a time without a job or if they did, it lasted only a few weeks or months and then they were firmly attached to another job. What they most needed from us was some help in finding a new job and they didn't need to work with us for a longer period of time.
But now we are looking at large swaths of the population experiencing multiple periods of unemployment throughout their careers. And a good chunk of the workforce can go 6 months or longer without a job. While job search information is still an important part of the service mix, it's not going to be enough to really help people. They will be showing up at our doors again once the next round of lay-offs occurs.
I think we've reached a place where we need to move beyond just providing job search information through core services. Now we need to look at helping people develop what I call career resilience skills--career management behaviors that can help them anticipate and adapt to change on an ongoing basis, rather than when they are in crisis mode.
And we need to offer these services not just to people who are unemployed, but also to people who are currently employed so that they can be more strategic in their own career management.
The "New" Core Services
For me, the new Core Services should be all about the career management skills job seekers need to survive and thrive in the new economy. Some of this is about job search, of course. But it's much bigger than just how to write a resume.
There are several benefits to expanding our idea of what we could offer through Core Services so that we're enaging with people throughout their careers, rather than just when they are crisis mode:
- From a WIB strategy perspective, this is a HUGE area for us to create value for customers. By positioning ourselves as providers of a broader range of career management skills, we fill a real gap in the marketplace, which is key to our ongoing relevance and funding.
- We can help people avoid unplanned job loss, ensuring that they are prepared with the skills and credentials that are in demand and helping them to access other opportunities. Lay-off aversion will be far better for our local economies and for the people who live in our communities.
- If people do lose their jobs, they are already connected to us and, therefore, more likely to access services earlier in the process. We all know that your chances of finding a new job plummet once you've been out of work 6 months or more, so the sooner people are connected to our services, the better. If they've been working with us already, we'd be a natural resource for them to use if they do lose their jobs.
- We will create a more skilled workforce that is more attractive to employers. When people develop their career management skills, they become more focused on their own professional development and growth. This is good for both job seekers and employers and creates a more resilient pool of workers able to adapt to ongoing changes.
In tomorrow's post I'm going to share some of the topic areas I think we should focus on if we're going to re-envision what Core Services should be.
For now, I'd love to hear your input on the idea of expanding what we offer through Core. Can you see how this could benefit your local area? What challenges do you see in implementing new Core Services and how could we overcome them?