Vol. 25, No. 1: Great Things Happening in the New Year

Career Pathways Partnerships in Virginia

Randall Stamper

In spring 2008, Governor Tim Kaine issued an executive order establishing the Virginia Career Pathways Task Force. The group included representation from the eight state agencies that administer and oversee workforce development, as well as a representative from the commonwealth's economic development office. Charged to develop a Career Pathways strategic plan, the members met regularly over several months to develop a shared vision, consistent definitions, and systemic expectations of what Career Pathways meant for the state's workforce programs.

In December 2008, the task force issued Bridging Business and Education for the 21st Century Workforce: A Strategic Plan for Virginia's Career Pathways System, which outlined a vision for the system and specific goals and outcomes to be achieved across agencies and programs.

In the years since the release of that plan, the group has continued to meet, collaborate, plan, and problem solve. While the name has changed from "task force" to "work group," and membership has changed a bit over the years due to retirements and shifting administrative priorities, the core representatives from the Governor's Office, Department of Labor and Industry, State Council for Higher Education, Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education, Virginia Community College System, Department of Social Services, Virginia Employment Commission, and Virginia Economic Development Partnership have remained committed to the group because of much real progress that has been made in integrating Career Pathways into Virginia's workforce development system, and because of the trust and respect that have grown among the members. The results—which include collaborative interagency programming, tens of millions of dollars in collectively sought public and private grants, and legislation that has advanced recommendations that grew out of our work together—have exceeded expectations. A few examples tell the story of the work group's growth and success over the years.

Early in our tenure, members of the Career Pathways Work Group attracted the attention of the Ford Foundation, which provided funding to support three small regional proof-of-concept grants to show how Career Pathways could be integrated into regional programming. In one pilot the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development and Thomas Nelson Community College jointly developed a comprehensive set of workforce competencies needed to fill over 11,000 projected job openings in the area's 14 major manufacturing companies, as well as a website designed to guide residents to manufacturing jobs and regional education and training programs that provide relevant preparation for those jobs. The success of this pilot led to the development of the same tools for healthcare employers in the region, and the recognition among business and industry in the region that the partnership between the council and the college provides the go-to workforce solutions source in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.

Based on the success of these pilot programs, and the growing recognition of the work group at the state level, the members recognized that we needed both to tell our story better and to show state leaders, legislators, and other policymakers that we really were approaching our work differently. To these ends, all of the agencies represented on the work group contributed funding and staff time to create two products that would provide a clearer picture of Virginia's Career Pathways system. The award-winning video that we produced helps explain our interagency approach to workforce development. A complement to the video is a clear and concise map of the workforce development system that provides a quick, easy-to-understand picture of the funding, populations served, and providers of the 24 workforce development programs in Virginia. This map has been tremendously helpful to members of the Governor's staff and agency leaders as they have sought to educate legislators about the state's workforce development system through two general assembly sessions that have led to new funding for some of our programs, growth of support for noncredit workforce training at our colleges, and greater collaboration among agencies in economic development planning. It's fair to say that if the members of the work group had not spent the past several years meeting, learning more about each other's agency priorities, and identifying where we could make effective and significant steps forward collectively, we would not now be viewed as the Commonwealth's subject matter expert advisory group to the state Workforce Investment Board and the Governor's Cabinet.

As cited in a recent review of the workforce development system by the legislature's non-partisan research arm, "In the past few years, providing workforce development services has moved from a program-specific approach to taking an interagency, systemic approach. . . . A key component of this system level approach to provision of services is collaboration among the existing programs. . . . More than half the programs (14), report sharing multiple resources with at least 3 other programs. Almost all (23 of the 24) programs report sharing clients with at least one other workforce program, in most cases multiple programs." This, quite simply, was not the case ten years ago, and it is reflective of the premium all agencies have placed on the extra work it takes to reap the benefits of shared risk, shared effort, and shared success.

Nowhere are those benefits more apparent than in recent grant awards we've enjoyed. In the past year, members of the group have worked together on a variety of grant opportunities to support the populations we serve. A Department of Labor grant will fund work by the Virginia Employment Commission and Virginia's Community Colleges to provide better supports to veterans seeking training, mentoring, credit for prior learning, and job placement. Another DOL grant will support local partnerships among WIBs, colleges, and businesses so that long-term unemployed workers can simultaneously access on-the-job training, career coaching, and college training related to the OJT, all at no cost to the recipient. Invited grants from several funders, if awarded, will scale up a pilot program that partners our Department of Social Services, Department of Education, Virginia's Community Colleges, and the Virginia Employment Commission for the purpose of accelerating the training, credentialing, and employment of Virginia residents who receive SNAP benefits. All told, nearly 25 million dollars have been awarded to collaborative applications developed by members of the Career Pathways Work Group, and we are optimistic that 30 million more will soon be approved to fund projects across agencies, across regions, and across the populations we serve together.

During Governor McAuliffe's administration, the Career Pathways Work Group has been instrumental in driving a major policy initiative to focus all 24 career and technical education and workforce programs within Virginia's workforce system on the goal of generating 50,000 more workforce credentials in the next three years, and nearly half a million more credentials by 2030. Credentials to Compete—including industry certifications, licenses, apprenticeship credentials, and community college occupational certificates and degrees—are bringing together state agencies, programs, and the 15 local workforce investment boards around a common goal and collaborative activities to better promote, resource, and evaluate credentials that count in building Virginia's pipeline of technicians, technologists, and trades workers.

Based on these accomplishments over the past several years, and the clear vision of what is yet to come, Virginia was one of a handful of states chosen to participate in the National Governors' Association (NGA) Policy Academy targeting alignment of education and training to economic development and employer needs through state-level action in setting a vision and goals for workforce development. Our work will focus on enhancing integrated data systems to inform policy and administrative action; building private-public partnerships; and realigning resources to better meet goals and benchmarks. In line with the Governor's focus on Credentials to Compete, Virginia's primary outcome in its NGA grant will be establishing policy aimed at reducing the skills gap for so-called "middle skills" jobs in key industry sectors, in part through driving the Governor's credential goal. Not surprisingly, several members of the work group are serving on the leadership team for the new NGA grant, and we are very excited to see how our next chapter unfolds.

Randall Stamper is Assistant Vice Chancellor for Career Pathways and Workforce Programs, Virginia's Community Colleges. For more information, contact him at rstamper@vccs.edu.

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