Principles for Creating a State Workforce Development Program

In late 2013, the Brookings Institute published an article about reforming workforce development and human capital policies. Although written for the federal government, a number of principles for creating state-level workforce development programs emerge.

(1) There is a role for state involvement, for two reasons. First, employers often will only supply training if they do not have to bear the full costs. Skills are transferable and developed workers may take their new skills elsewhere, causing the employer to lose the investment. Second, workers often will not independently invest in job-specific skills for fear of wasting time and effort, especially when facing uncertainty about the future of their particular job or industry. States can reduce both employers’ and employees’ risk of investing in skills development by subsidizing part of the training costs.  

(2) States can and should connect key stakeholders to increase program effectiveness. Communication should be facilitated between the employers with workforce needs, the government entity creating the program and the institution carrying out the program. Such interactions can lead to more efficient and effective programs that better serve workers, employers and the industry in general.  Stakeholders may include community colleges, high schools, non-profits, community business leaders or unions.

(3) Consider the program’s targeted workforce group and the state’s role. Historically, workforce development programs were intended to reduce poverty. As such, they served low-skilled low-income workers who needed such programs to survive in the job market and improve their economic wellbeing. Over time, workforce development programs began serving high-skilled high-educated workers. These universalistic programs allow more people to receive help, increase employers’ pool of potential workers and increases political support by expanding the number of stakeholders. Both have advantages and disadvantages and states should carefully consider which group to target.

(4) Collect, organize and use data on successful programs. Program outcomes are difficult to determine without quality data. When designing or funding programs, states should consider what information is necessary to determine program success and what kinds of information other policymakers need to decide if the program is appropriate to use as a model for new programs. This may include data on program outcomes, types of workers and their demographics, specifics activities of the program, targeted industries and skills taught. As much as possible, this data should be uniform across programs and collected over time, even after the workers have left the program. This is especially true of innovative or new programs.

(5) States can serve as a hub of information. Following principle four, collecting data on program effectiveness and outcomes allows states to compile and synthesize information in one location. States can give unbiased information to stakeholders and other policymakers seeking to improve or create workforce development programs. Information should be available, easily accessible, clear and transparent to increase its usefulness and improve the quality of future programs.

(6) Best practices and effective strategies can emerge from these principles. By collecting and synthesizing data and acting as a hub of information, states can facilitate the discovery of best practices. Providing a shared forum and shared knowledge database allows policymakers and stakeholders to discover even the smallest programs and circulate innovative ideas and successful programs to other states or industry employers.