Investing in America’s Workforce

October 2, 2017
By Steve Shepelwich, Senior Community Development Advisor


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Workforce development is a key ingredient of strong local economies. At its heart, workforce development focuses on developing a skilled workforce that can meet the needs of businesses. While simple to state, this quickly becomes complicated in implementation. 

The Federal Reserve System has launched a multiyear initiative, Investing in America’s Workforce, to improve workforce development outcomes for both workers and businesses. The goal is to shift the perception of workforce development from being a cost to being an investment that yields positive returns for businesses, workers and their communities. 

The importance and timeliness of this effort was underlined by Janet Yellen, chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, in a recent national speech on workforce development challenges faced by low-income communities: 
“Significant job market changes in recent years, brought about by global competition and technological advances—and the new and shifting skills that these changes demand—make workforce development more important than ever before.”

Driving Investments, Not Costs
Reframing and reimagining workforce development efforts as investments—not just social services—can lead to larger scale solutions and more accountable outcomes. Investing in workforce development can bolster the equitable and efficient use of resources. It can lead to better outcomes for individuals as well as more competitive businesses and regional economic growth. And it can help us unlock the potential of our nation’s workforce.

Investing in America’s Workforce Conference
This theme was explored in depth in the initiative’s capstone conference, Investing in America’s Workforce: Improving Outcomes for Workers and Employers, Oct. 4-6 in Austin, Texas. 

The goal of the conference was to explore opportunities and strategies for supporting the development of effective labor markets, characterized by skilled workers matched to employer needs, which ensure consistent economic growth. 

The conference connected leaders from businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, academics, financial institutions and philanthropic organizations to explore ways to:

  • Reframe workforce development efforts as investments, not just social services
  • Attract new resources and leverage existing funding sources
  • Improve economic mobility and impact for workers

Conference speakers featured senior leadership from major corporations, presidents of four regional Federal Reserve Banks and experts in workforce and economic development. More than 300 business, workforce, education and government leaders attended. The conference was hosted in partnership with the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources at the University of Texas at Austin, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University and the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

A full conference agenda and registration is available online

Other Initiative Activities
In addition to the conference, the initiative consists of several other areas of work. A national series of more than 50 roundtables has been completed with local workforce, business and civic leaders to understand workforce needs and opportunities from a local, ground-up perspective. A summary of these discussions was presented at the conference. They will also assist in writing a book, to be published in 2018, consisting of more than 60 invited essays from a broad group of national leaders in the workforce development field offering a range of perspectives on how investments can be made and outcomes strengthened in the field. 

Workforce development does matter for individuals, families, businesses and their communities. And, it is worthy of smart investments that can produce tangible outcomes for all. To learn more about this initiative and the conference, visit the Investing in America's Workforce website or contact Steven Shepelwich