What is Workforce Development?

July 6, 2017

By: ArtPlace America

Last month we discussed economic development and its focus on the demand side of the labor market. This month, we explore the supply side of the labor market and workforce development. Workforce development focuses on the individual and developing workers with the skills necessary for the 21st century economy. Workforce development has a lot of players. Multiple federal agencies including the Department of Labor, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services along with state government, regional and local Workforce Investment Boards, non profits, social service agencies, community college systems, distance learning and private career and technical education schools, unions, and foundations all contribute to the workforce development system. Much of this work is driven by federal laws which over time have included the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (1973), the Job Training Partnership Act (1982), the Workforce Investment Act (1998), and the recent Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (2014).

 It’s all about getting every person on a path to employment.

Imagine you are entering high school in the Louisville, Kentucky and have forever dreamt of being a nurse. What does that career path look like? What is the pipeline that you move along to get to where you want to be?

First, you are in the right place. Louisville happens to count hospitals as its largest employers. Second, Kentucky just created a 120-credit hour nursing career pathway across the state. Career pathways are education and training programs and support services that enable youth and adults to secure industry credentials, obtain jobs and advance to higher levels of education and employment[i]. The state department of education, its districts and high schools, their workforce development cabinet, the Kentucky Board of Nursing, the Health Career Collaborative of Greater Louisville and community colleges and four-year universities joined together to make this happen. Here are the stackable credentials and degrees you can earn beginning in high school:

  • Health Care Foundations – Basic Certificate (HCFBC) in high school – nursing aide (SRNA) and CPR certifications
  • Certified nursing assistant (CAN)
  • Licensed practical nurse (LPN)
  • Associate degree in nursing (ADN) – registered nurse (RN)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

And if you want to climb further up the career ladder, you can continue and take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination or become a nurse practitioner through an MSN program.

And what about all of the professional development opportunities you take advantage of on-the-job – the trainings, conferences, certifications? They are all part of the workforce development support system. Most workforce development happens in the workplace – helping people develop their skills and increase their earnings over time.

How can the arts contribute to workforce development?

As the employability skills necessary for jobs today has changed rapidly – moving from vocational and mechanical skills to technical and 21st Century employability skills – collaboration and teamwork, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving – the arts have garnered more importance in the workforce development field.  A fresh new conversation about the role of arts and culture in workforce development is heating up around the value that arts and culture can bring to creating jobs, building skillsets, and strengthening an economy. Including:

  1. Employers can leverage arts-based strategies to build their internal capacity for creative thinking, cultivating valuable skillsets in existing employees such as problem solving, communication, and critical thinking – which will allow them to advance beyond entry-level positions to higher paying jobs.
  2. Companies can bring in artists to take non-traditional approaches to tackling their organization's challenges, improving a company's ability to grow and create jobs in the future. 
  3. Thriving arts and culture scenes can be central to recruiting major employers to a given community. Companies looking to re-locate are paying more attention to the cultural vitality of a location and of its potential to improve the quality of life for their workforce. Recent data has reflected this, showing a trend towards place attracting young talent and employers in turn following talent, a reversal of the historical perception of the employer-talent dynamic.

Ultimately building an effective workforce system – which can be done with arts and cultural tools – is essential to economic development. Simply, you need people be successful as they work in the jobs that are created.


[i] U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, & U.S. Department of Labor. (2012, April). Joint letter and guiding principles for developing comprehensive career pathways systems. Washington, DC: Authors.