Workforce Development: Something We Can All Agree On

By on October 25, 2018
Hart Nelson, MBA

It’s an exciting time to be in workforce development. In my experience, it is rare for civic leaders, educators, and politicians on both sides of the aisle to agree on a particular priority. Importantly though, all sides are aligning and rallying around Missouri’s need to equip a trained and job-ready workforce. This rare agreement extends beyond just talk. Employers and colleges are actively sitting down to ensure educational requirements align with actual job duties. Concurrently, public funding and resources are lined up to create lasting training programs.

Governor Mike Parson has been consistently on-message with his support for workforce development, starting with his Conference on Economic Development in Kansas City in September and continuing through whistle stop events in St. Louis and across the state. He and his cabinet-level team developed the Best in Midwest and Talent for Tomorrow initiatives—efforts that offer a clear-eyed analysis of how Missouri has fallen behind its peers in workforce investments. But along with this unfortunate-but-realistic baseline, his team put together a strategy to move the state forward by connecting all Missourians to work, building infrastructure, and developing a labor market that increases overall educational attainment and aligns K-12, higher education and the workforce system.

The level of public investment is significant. Aiming to train workers for new and existing positions, the Missouri Division of Workforce Development recently awarded $5.1 million to nearly 200 companies across the state. As part of Missouri’s Customized Training program, this funding helps businesses of all sizes provide training to get new workers job-ready and to upskill existing employees. The investment allows companies flexibility to choose their training provider for the program. Customized Training is administered by Missouri’s community and technical colleges, including St. Louis Community College.

Both the State of Missouri and the federal government have requested proposals to help higher-ed develop apprenticeships and accelerated training programs in high-vacancy job fields. Capitalizing on our region’s robust history in defense and production, STLCC partnered with a state-wide consortium of community colleges to develop a far-reaching advanced manufacturing apprenticeship program that, if awarded, will put $12 million in grant funding to work, training 5,000 workers over the next four years.

With huge vacancies in healthcare jobs like nursing, surgical and respiratory technicians, and patient care technicians, along with increasing demand for IT professionals in software development, STLCC submitted a funding plan to the Department of Higher Education. Combined with a $30 million investment STLCC is already making in its new Center for Nursing and Health Sciences, this new funding could help the college increase healthcare program graduates by 50%.

Closer to home, St. Louisans are recognizing that job vacancies combined with our slow rate of population growth makes it crucial to eliminate the “brain waste” that happens when highly-skilled immigrants living in our region aren’t able to work in their fields. The International Institute, in partnership with the National Skills Coalition, hosted a convening of civic leaders this month to discuss ways pathways can be created to bring these new neighbors back into work in fields like nursing and teaching. Navigating the requirements of many professional accreditation and licensing bodies is daunting even for native-born St. Louisans, and the partnership is committed to eliminating as many unnecessary barriers as possible.

And while retraining and upskilling incumbent workers and helping skilled immigrants are important, we must not forget about the young people throughout our region, many of whom have not been able to access the booming job market due to a lack of skills or other barriers such as reliable transportation. Later this month, STLCC will join with a number of other community leaders in announcing a new partnership to specifically focus on the workforce needs of St. Louis’ youth. Stay tuned for more news on this front.

Chancellor Pittman frequently says the college has three missions: workforce, transfers and continuing education. All of these are important. At the end of the day, most of our students are on our campuses getting an education and building skills in order to get a job. We are proud to work with our partners across the public and private sectors to help everyone who wants a job to get the skills she or he needs to succeed.

About Hart Nelson

Hart Nelson was appointed associate vice chancellor, Workforce Solutions Group in May 2018. Nelson has 23 years of career experience in public policy, government relations, intelligence and information technology. He serves as the lead for economic and workforce development, is responsible for managing corporate and community workforce development, continuing professional development and personal enrichment education, as well as managing entrepreneurial initiatives that reflect the needs of local, regional and national employers. Most recently, Nelson was vice president of public policy for the St. Louis Regional Chamber. He has been a foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State, an intelligence officer with the United States Navy Reserve and an information technology architect with IBM. As a volunteer, he is board treasurer of Citizens for Modern Transit and vice chair of the Missouri Military Preparedness and Enhancement Commission. He has a master's degrees in business administration and information management from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor of Arts in political science and mass communication from University of California-Berkeley.

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