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Originally published Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 4:08 PM

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Guest: A new post-recession model to retrain the workforce

As the region emerges from a recession, successful workforce training requires partnership between public and private funders, writes guest columnist Marlena Sessions.

Special to The Times

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AS communities come out of the recession, many, if not most, will realize that the job market has changed.

Employers are asking for more specific skills, new occupations are emerging, and an increasing number of jobs require some degree of postsecondary training and education.

In addition to technical skills, employers are increasingly seeking job candidates who can work well in teams, solve problems and adapt to new technologies and approaches.

Creativity and innovation are not luxuries; they’re necessities. But federal and state funding for job-training programs is decreasing and many individuals who need education and training are at risk of being left behind as the economy recovers.

Effective workforce training and education programs are leaner after funding reductions. They continue to meet employer and job-seeker needs, but the way forward is through increased collaboration and partnership between corporate, philanthropic and public funders and organizations.

In partnership, more can be done, and it can be done more efficiently and more effectively.

Examples of this type of partnership are growing in the Puget Sound area.

Vigor Shipyards has recently opened its new marine manufacturing training facility on Seattle’s Harbor Island in partnership with South Seattle Community College, the city of Seattle, the Port of Seattle and the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County. Vigor’s investment funded the facility and South Seattle Community College will provide the instruction.

The involvement of the business sector helps the educational system focus on what it does best, teaching, and it sustains a program from its inception. The model creates an instant pipeline of workers to fill jobs in the region’s maritime sector.

The Seattle Housing Authority is also collaborating with private and public partners in the redevelopment of the Yesler Terrace community on First Hill in Seattle. The bulk of the project will be funded through federal grants and developers who will sell mixed-income units on the open market.

The housing authority is also partnering with the nonprofit Seattle Foundation, the city, hospitals, the Workforce Development Council, community colleges and Swedish and Harborview hospitals to train and develop jobs for current residents.

The communitywide approach will integrate multiple funders and organizations to develop the talents of Yesler Terrace residents.

The Workforce Development Council combines nonprofit and federal funding sources to provide health-care training to low-income youth throughout the summer on community-college campuses. Youth earn certificates, dual college and high-school credit, and they start the next year of high school much further ahead.

But the current federal funding that’s helping with their summer training can’t provide food, and a class full of hungry students is unproductive. Thanks to a grant from the United Way of King County, these youth will get a meal while they learn this summer. And with this small grant, a much larger federal initiative has a greater impact.

Publicly funded programs have been critical to our society since their invention during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. However, in 2013, the Puget Sound region is figuring out that all systems, be they public, private or philanthropic, must come together to fill jobs.

Intentional partnerships between industry, public workforce and training systems, and philanthropic organizations creatively produce self-sufficient workers to close industry skill gaps.

Marlena Sessions is CEO of the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County, and 2013 president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Workforce Development Council.


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