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June 7, 2024

Workcon 2024

Written by Ronald Epps

The California Workforce Association’s(CWA) annual Workcon conference is a setting where workforce development professionals from around the state converge to exchange ideas, share best practices and foster connections in an effort to drive future workforce development initiatives. 

This year’s conference focused on “Bridging the Gap,” a theme that emphasizes the importance of discerning how workforce development boards can address and resolve inefficiencies in their programs across California. Each of the over 50 workshops offered attendees extensive insights into workforce trends and strategies from artificial intelligence to expanding recruitment. 

Below are some important emerging topics for workforce development boards to consider that can have a significant impact on workforce development in their region. 

Supporting Underserved Communities through Early Intervention and Community Alternatives 

A vital discussion point was the creation of opportunities for justice-impacted individuals. In his keynote address, “If You Can See It, Be It,” former felon Jeff Henderson “Chef Jeff,” now turned chef, bestselling author and popular public speaker, shared his powerful story of reinvention. Chef Jeff, who discovered his passion for cooking during his time in prison, highlighted the message that it’s never too late to start over and find a new path.  

His harrowing story is a reminder that not everyone has the capacity or opportunity to improve their lives. It highlights the underlying problem faced by many individuals like him: They come from underserved communities that offer limited access to good education, training, support services and opportunities, leading some to resort to alternative, and sometimes illegal, ways of making a living. 

By increasing investment in and strategically locating job centers in these communities, we can create opportunities for gainful employment and reduce the need for individuals to resort to those choices. 

Leveraging Technology and AI for Enhanced Training  

Artificial intelligence (AI) is forecasted to impact almost every industry in some regard, with the potential to change the workforce as we know it. This reality has instilled fear in some worried about job loss, and excitement in others who view it as a tool for productivity and potential job growth. 

Sessions such as Jeff Butler’s presentation on AI Disruption and the information shared by vendors provided a comprehensive look into how AI can enhance workforce efficiency instead of posing a threat. For instance, AI can be applied to optimize resumes, ensuring they stand out in the hiring process and are able to pass through resume screeners.  

It can also improve services by offering virtual hands-on training and enhancing the learning experience. The plain truth is that we are living in an increasingly technologically advanced society and workforce development boards must ensure that training in these new technologies is more accessible and convenient for their clients. 

Promoting Emotional Awareness and Transferrable Skills to Support Veterans in the Workforce  

Veterans face many challenges as they transition to civilian life, including housing instability, substance use and barriers to employment. Despite the availability of various public and private resources, addressing these problems remains a critical need.  

To support veterans in this transition, many workforce development boards (WDBs) must focus on translating military skills into valuable skills for civilian employers as well as improving veterans’ resume and interview skills. 

A notable concept introduced during one of the sessions is the “failure resume,” which encourages participants to view failures as learning opportunities. This approach aims to foster emotional awareness and resilience among job seekers and can be used to help veterans rethink their military experiences and relate them to the workforce. Employers often seek candidates who have demonstrated the ability to learn from mistakes and bounce back stronger. 

By articulating their transferrable skills in job applications and interviews, veterans can showcase their unique strengths and how they align with the needs of employers. 

Adapting Recruitment for Different Generations  

As the workforce changes, not only are employer needs evolving, but so are the needs of candidates. By 2030, Gen Z will make up 30% of the workforce.  

As younger generations start to enter the workforce and work alongside older ones, workforce professionals are noticing differing work ethics and communication preferences among generations, from Baby Boomers to Millennials. Notably, 77% of Gen Z prioritize work-life balance, reflecting an emerging opinion that differs from the previous notions of blending work and life.  

Employers can ensure smoother integration and training processes by adapting recruitment strategies to align with these differences. 

WDBs need to collaborate with employers to help them tap into the changing values and understand and address the unique needs of each generation. This approach allows organizations to create well-balanced, multi-generational teams with diverse perspectives and experiences, resulting in more cohesive and effective teams. 

Addressing Gaps in Apprenticeships Models 

Apprenticeships models are a growing pathway that provide pathways into high-wage careers. The San Diego Workforce Partnership offers apprenticeships including our Apprenticeship Readiness Program which is a part of the High Road Recovery Partnership (HRRP), an innovative initiative designed to create robust apprenticeship pathways through the collaborative efforts of community colleges, workforce development organizations and labor unions. We were asked to present on the topic alongside the Fresno and San Bernardino workforce boards.  

Since the program operates across multiple training providers across a wide region, the Workforce Partnership shared the importance of fostering collaboration and engaging stakeholders effectively, ensuring comprehensive support and training to avoid siloed operations. We provide emergency and supportive services, a system-wide work-readiness curriculum and contextualized math and tutoring courses for participants. These services ensure that trainees receive consistent training across different facilities. Additionally, our program offers a math training course specifically tailored for construction, which community colleges typically lack.  

The Fresno board focused on including initiatives that have addressed barriers for female applicants and launched women-only programs, exemplify the initiative’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility. 

Increased Collaboration with Co-located Partners Can Improve Client Experience   

Workforce boards need to reassess their approach to engaging with local partners, Increasing the frequency of meetings and sharing more information to enhance their overall impact. 

Collaboration between WDBs and their co-located partners is crucial for optimizing resources, enhancing client services and aligning policies. Joint efforts ensure that resources are used efficiently, avoiding duplication and providing streamlined, comprehensive support to clients. Shared data and insights enable WDBs to tailor their programs to current workforce demands, while unified strategies and advocacy efforts ensure effective WIOA policy implementation and resource allocation. 

Engaging with other client service teams provides WDBs with opportunities to learn about successful strategies and best practices, fostering innovation and service improvement. Networking with these teams builds valuable connections and partnerships, leading to integrated approaches that address the holistic needs of clients and ensures that clients receive comprehensive support, improving their chances of gaining employment. 

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