Communities That Work Partnership - "Leveraging the Lens of Industry in Workforce Development"

Nov062015

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Dennis Elsenbeck, Regional Director, National Grid
Dennis Elsenbeck, Regional Director, National Grid

Guest blog post by Dennis Elsenbeck, Regional Director, National Grid

In early 2015, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (BNP), western NY’s largest business advocacy group, asked me to consider taking part in a “learning network” project.   The BNP, with the help of the Buffalo Community Foundation, would be applying and competing with other communities to be a part of this "learning network" focused on workforce initiatives.

The Aspen Institute had been selected by the U.S. Department of Commerce to lead this initiative, with a focus on accelerating regional industry-led talent development efforts.  They would be selecting regional multi-sector teams from across the country to participate in the network, called the Communities That Work Partnership (CTWP).  I was flattered to be asked to represent the business community, and this past July the Buffalo region team was one of seven from across the United States selected to participate.  

CTWP is an effort to strengthen regional economies by equipping American workers with the skills needed for 21st century jobs, and accelerating industry-led workforce development and training efforts.  Absent an effective workforce development system, industry will act on its own and find a way to mitigate its workforce challenges.   Partnered with an efficient workforce system, industry can play a larger role in developing a sustainable community, one that creates opportunities for all.

Workforce and talent development is both a personal passion for me, and a strategic objective of my employer, National Grid. The company is active in numerous workforce development oriented activities throughout our U.S. service areas, mainly in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.  In Western New York alone we sponsor an Engineering Camp for early high schoolers at the University of Buffalo, STEM orientation for Teachers in the Niagara Falls Public School System, program support for the Genesee County Tech Academy, a consolidated STEM Network in Cattaraugus County and even a “Science is Elementary” program at the Westminster Elementary School in Buffalo; all looking at fundamental skills from an industry or applied science perspective.  Building on these successes, National Grid has partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor through its ApprenticeshipUSA LEADER program to explore the creation of an apprenticeship program to further enhance our, and the region’s, qualified electrical worker supply chain.

In September, all of the communities selected for the CTWP assembled for the first time at the Aspen Institute Conference Center.  This first session allowed each team to gain an understanding of the current state and goals of the others; to expand our thinking from individual to collective leadership concepts.  We got to know one another, to develop a shared vision of the CTWP, to develop regional plans using feedback from the breadth of all of the teams and set the foundation for regional plans to inform and influence results-driven system changes.  What was evident; industry focused skills set development is a national challenge and we, in industry, have a vital role to drive the workforce delivery system process.

This sharing of best practices and common concerns will prove valuable as we begin a community-based, round-table approach to building a sustainable workforce development system in our region.  It’s clear that we have lost sight of the value of the skilled worker, and we all must play a role in reversing that trend.  As companies face workforce challenges either through attrition, technological advancement or market adjustments, there needs to be a more seamless delivery system in place for workforce development.  We have learned that the most effective way to address these challenges is to become a proactive leader in our region by building partnerships with the full spectrum of educational, training and community resources already available.  It is imperative that communities have a sense of the skills that will be required for their entire economy, not just a single company.  Creating a platform for training a diverse workforce, and creating a pipeline to connect those workers with opportunities will pay the biggest dividends – for employees, employers, and the communities where they live and do business.  We, in the workforce supply chain, not only need to get out of the box in our thinking, but send that box to the curb.

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