Updated: May 26
The National Association of Workforce Development Professionals hosted their 38th Annual Conference, bringing together workforce development professionals and leaders in in business, government, labor, and education gather to gain insights into the current state of the nation’s workforce system. Chief Operating Officer Shelley Penn and MIS Director Andrea Robins represented the Full Employment Council at the event, which was held in Las Vegas. "It's nice have the opportunity to sit at a national table, and learn and collaborate with other workforce development leaders from all over the country," said Penn. "In this economy, we have to reimagine workforce development." For the Full Employment Council, that means continuing to develop a working ecosystem that encapsulates much more than just connecting a person with an available position. Instead, education, economic development and employer partnerships are taken into consideration when developing the plan. "The Full Employment Council, as the staff to two workforce boards, is the dot connecter," Penn explained. "Our goal is to bring together education and economic development, along with a focus on affordable housing, childcare, transportation and other resources needed to be successful on the job. That's what we mean when we say a workforce ecosystem." The FEC's approach relies on the utilization of apprenticeships, the coordination of industry-informed curriculum that aligns with employers' needs, and other work-based learning opportunities that align to the needs and hiring schedules of employers. "The FEC continues to be a rarity, because we are the fiscal agent and we also administer the services to the people and businesses in our region," Penn said. She believes that it's exactly this combination that allows the FEC to be the top-performing public workforce system in Missouri. Looking ahead, Penn believes that the time has come to change the face of workforce development. It's no longer a labor exchange effort, Penn said, but an opportunity to earn and learn while skilling up in sector-specific occupations with clear career paths. "One size doesn't fit all, and customization of effort and services will continue to be key," said Penn. "Employers should have the flexibility to prescribe what the apprenticeship entails, while the employees' proficiency is demonstrated and measured on the job." Penn also pointed out that the idea that there is a shortage of people that are unwilling to work is a huge misconception. Instead, she said there is tremendous opportunity for people, and workers are taking advantage of those opportunities, through such means as skill-up training, on-the-job training where they earn and learn, and participating in internships and apprenticeships. "People are looking for better opportunities, with career pathways, flexibility and higher pay potential," Penn said. "It's not about when you start, but where you finish."