Where are the Answers?

Knowledge Exchange on Workforce and the Economy – Building Collaboration through Conversation

Monday morning begins a very exciting week. Since late spring I have been involved in planning a study visit that will see a group of representatives from workforce and economic development backgrounds come to Ontario and participate in what has turned out to be four days filled with amazing opportunity to learn, dialogue and share ideas around what we know is a common challenge – getting local job vacancies filled with the right people, at the right time, with the right skills.

The group has travelled from North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, Washington and even as far away as the UK.  They will make their way around Toronto for two days, hearing from and dialoguing with provincial and local representatives that are focused on the economy, workforce planning and education and skills development. Together we will converse about Ontario’s resilience following the recession, the province’s policies to support workforce and education strategies, our service delivery models and how labour market information is managed.

Why is this conversation so important? Economies are going through dramatic changes — high unemployment while jobs go unfilled, demands for improvement in productivity, technological advancements, and community’s struggling to attract investment and support their local businesses. What must we be doing to address the disconnect between jobs and job seekers? How well positioned are we to respond should the economy experience another downturn? How do we make the most of the available resources, given that austerity measures are top of mind in every funding decision being made these days.

We know that there are too many people that continue to suffer the effects of remaining jobless. For those working in the space of workforce development, there is a real concern about the impact on people. So the next few days is about putting heads together to learn how these challenges are being addressed and what best and promising practices can be shared. We can choose to go it alone and hope that we make a difference or we can choose to collaborate and learn from each other. I’m a firm believer that if everyone can contribute to the conversation, we will find the right strategies that will make a difference. I hope this is the first of many such conversations, and I envision the day when we are having this conversation Canada and US wide.

“We’re in a very different economy from four years ago,” said Ronald Painter, CEO of the U.S. National Association of Workforce Boards and a keynote speaker. “This means economic developers and workforce boards are partnering in completely new ways to plan local labor markets, deliver high quality services, ensure business receives the talent they need, and design economic recovery so that it benefits all members of society.”

The three key partnering organizations that have led this study visit include the National Association of Workforce Boards, InclusionUS and MDB Insight:

The US based, National Association of Workforce Boards represents business-led Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) that coordinate and leverage workforce strategies with education and economic development stakeholders within their local communities, to ensure that state and local workforce development and job training programs meet the needs of employers. These investments in workforce development create a comprehensive system to provide America with a highly skilled workforce that competes in the global economy.

Inclusion US is the Washington-based affiliate of Inclusion UK. They provide research and consultancy to UK and US-based clients on economic and social inclusion. The Inclusion US team are known for their international expertise, national influence and local knowledge, and each member has a combination of education, policy, research and advisory experience in both the UK and US.

MDB Insight was established in 2007 out of a desire to build a collaborative team dedicated to helping communities and organizations wrestle with economic development challenges. With the growing evidence of a fundamental shift occurring in Canadian and global economies, the firm’s approach remains focused on providing innovative and informed solutions. This vision has shaped MDB Insight into Canada’s leading economic development consultancy and positioned the firm at the forefront of industry thought and practice.

Recognizing the intimate link between economic and workforce development, the firm launched its national workforce development division in early 2011. Under the leadership of Trudy Parsons, the firm has worked on both sides of the border to promote and develop strategies that are realistic, focused, and making a difference in how communities tackle such issues as immigration integration, youth and young professional recruitment and retention, mature worker transition, and integrated labour market planning.

“We need to better align supply and demand and we need to do so by using a more collaborative approach. Otherwise, we may all lose,” said Trudy Parsons, Director, Workforce Development for MDB Insight, a conference sponsor. “This event gives us an opportunity to bring together leaders from both sides of the U.S.-Ontario border that have a common passion and purpose – maximizing the investment of resources to provide opportunities for all who want to work.”

Over the next several days I’ll share with you key learnings as they emerge from the sessions in hopes that you will then add your perspective. Let’s keep the conversation going!