Sector partnerships bring together business, education and workforce organizations to design and deliver training and work experiences that are relevant to an industry and specific occupations. Sector partnerships prepare and place people who are unemployed or underemployed in jobs that are in demand and/or upgrade the skills of incumbent workers. In Massachusetts, we have been supporting sector partnerships for more than fifteen years, starting with local sector pilots in welfare to work in the late nineties. Many of the sector partnerships that we have supported over the past decade and a half have stood the test of time, evolving as the economy and technological changes have shifted the industries that they are serving.
In 2006, the Massachusetts Legislature established a vehicle to support sector partnerships called the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund (WCTF). The Legislature set out the parameters of the WCTF requiring employers to participate in any sector partnership, allowing for grants up to $500,000 for up to three years and requiring a 30% match. In 2006, the Legislature appropriated $18 million to capitalize the WCTF. From 2007-2012, the WCTF supported 31 partnerships across the state that enrolled 6,751 training participants, a mix of incumbent workers and people who were unemployed. Of those, 5,600 individuals completed at least one training event, 4,858 earned a skill credential and 5,459 experienced a positive employment outcome. These partnerships were awarded funding when the economy was strong, but were largely implemented during the Great Recession. This required the partnerships to be flexible and to focus on the most critical issues facing their employer partners at the time.
In 2012, the Legislature recapitalized the WCTF with $5 million. In this legislation, the Legislature added an emphasis on addressing the gap between job seekers’ skills and skills needed by employers for jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a 4-year degree (middle skill jobs). The legislation called for support for building regional partnerships that would leverage and build institutional capacity to develop multiple pathways to employment in middle skill jobs. The partnerships include two or more employers, a community college, a career and technical high school, the workforce board, a career center and in some cases, organized labor or community based organizations. Fifteen partnerships were awarded grants in July 2013. These partnerships are training people for jobs in manufacturing, health care, construction, financial services, transportation, early childhood education and hospitality. These 15 new WCTF partnerships are currently providing pre-employment training to more than 750 people: 75% are unemployed, 41% are receiving public assistance, 59% have a high school degree or less, and 29% are 24 years old or younger. Only halfway through the cycle, 460 people have entered employment through their training programs. Programs’ average hourly placement wages range from $11.00 to $19.00; the overall placement wage is $14.53.
More than 100 businesses are engaged in the partnerships. Many businesses are co-investing in the regional infrastructure to support pipeline training for their industry. To date, since its inception the WCTF regional partnerships have leveraged more than $18 million dollars in matching funds from businesses, philanthropy and other sources. In Franklin and Hampshire Counties, the manufacturing businesses raised $250,000 to purchase state of the art equipment at the regional career and technical high school to ensure that students and adults are being trained on the equipment that businesses are using. We tell the story of business engagement in another partnership in Bristol County as a best practice case study that you can find with this link.
What have we learned over the years about how to design and support sector partnerships? First, the partnerships that have been sustained over the years were operating at a strategic level, identifying systemic gaps and focusing on more than workforce issues. Participating businesses have learned that collaboration is critical in a competitive environment and they have co-invested in the partnerships. Second, requiring community colleges and career and technical high schools to participate in the partnerships, along with workforce organizations, has led to coordinated delivery systems that leverage the assets that each of the partners has to commit to solving the workforce challenges of a particular industry in their region. Community colleges are able to sustain programs after the initial start-up investment, career and technical schools are able to put their sophisticated equipment and instructional capabilities to work beyond the regular school day, workforce boards are skilled conveners and career centers are able to focus on designing recruitment and screening strategies that ensure that participants will be successful. Community based organizations and labor partners are able to provide a career pathway, with educational services that prepare a pool of individuals to be able to take advantage of the program.
There are new opportunities to grow sector partnerships with the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. State support creates an infrastructure into which workforce leaders can blend federal and other local dollars to expand the scale of sector partnerships. A Sector Partnerships approach is a proven model with a track record of putting people to work in good jobs and meeting the skill needs of businesses.
For more information about developing and supporting sector partnerships, check out our Partnership Guide for Practitioners.