Employer Engagement

Putting Talent Pipeline Management to Work to Improve Education, Training Results

Derrick RedelmanBy Derek Redelman, Senior Program Director, USA Funds

Last week, before a capacity crowd at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hall of Flags in Washington, D.C., USA Funds® announced its second major grant in support of the Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) initiative. Over 300 attendees, along with a countless audience that watched via live Web stream, were told that USA Funds will contribute nearly $2.5 million to expanding the initiative over the next two and a half years.

State leaders discuss improving the talent pipeline during a March 23 U.S. Chamber of Commerce national conference.
State leaders discuss improving the talent pipeline during a March 23 U.S. Chamber of Commerce national conference.

Two and a half years earlier, the TPM initiative was the first major philanthropic investment under USA Funds’ new focus on Completion With a Purpose℠. As we sought to make better connections between educational outcomes and success in jobs and careers, TPM represented a significant bet on the belief that employers could and should play a greater role in determining the types of workers who appear on their doorsteps.

Today, the momentum behind this initiative is evident. At last week’s summit, it wasn’t just the number of attendees that was so impressive — but also their expertise and importance to the discussion. Included among the presenters were a sitting governor, three state secretaries of commerce, and two state chamber of commerce presidents, along with representatives from economic development organizations and some of our nation’s largest employers. The audience included state and local leaders and employers from across the country — not your typical Washington audience of government and association staffers.

TPM: The Concept
The concept behind TPM focuses on the principles of supply chain management — a concept that businesses know well and use extensively, except (surprisingly) in human resource and workforce decisions. The concept puts the end-user in an active role as customer.

The customer determines his or her own needs and communicates those needs to the supplier. The customer and supplier work together to design and implement the “production” process, and they share data on the outcomes of that process. Ultimately, based on how well the customer and supplier work together, the customer may identify preferred providers.

Contrast that with the typical hiring process, which too many employers say today is not working for them: The suppliers — colleges and other education providers — determine the products that they want to offer. The customer can choose from the supplier-determined choices; and, if that does not work, then the customer can make another selection (a different degree or credential) or, as often occurs, pursue a “higher end” product (for example, moving from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree). Little or no data are shared; and the customer continually shops around.

The original goal of the TPM project was to produce an ongoing series of white papers and policy guides, and, certainly, the U.S. Chamber and its partners have delivered on that initial goal.

Learning Networks
But a year ago, midway through our first grant period, USA Funds worked with our grantee to develop pilot sites where this new concept could actually be demonstrated. And today, the customer-based TPM process is being piloted in seven sites:

  • In Michigan, a consortium of utilities, educators, state and local government officials and representatives of labor has been researching current workforce needs of the energy sector and evaluating the competencies and credentials most in need for key positions within that sector. As part of these efforts, the Michigan Department of Education recently approved Energy as a “career cluster,” providing career and technical education students with a pathway to prepare for and pursue jobs in the energy sector.
  • In Arizona, the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry is working to improve teacher quality within the state through its project “A for Arizona” and also using the TPM principle of talent flow analysis to identify where the state’s best teachers are being trained.
  • In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the recipients of the first competitive grants designed to help close the skills gap in key industry sectors of critical importance to the Virginia economy and reward and encourage employer-led talent development solutions.
  • In Northern Kentucky, manufacturers and a local community college are collaborating on a new course to help students gain competencies needed for one of the critical technical occupations in manufacturing.
  • The local economic development organization in Vermilion County, Ill., has been developing guides that explain how TPM strategies can be used to help manufacturers locate, develop and hire talent in a smarter way.
  • Kansas is scaling up its Workforce AID (Aligned with Industry Demand) program, with a focus on the information technology sector.
  • The Greater Houston Partnership is working to better understand demand variations in the region for the construction industry to help employers plan for their needs, while also mapping where employers in the petrochemical industry are sourcing talent.

In each case, the employers, economic development and government leaders in the region report a renewed and effective enthusiasm for addressing their respective workforce needs. Education and training providers are also engaging, as they recognize the benefits of making better connections between their immediate customers (the students) and their customer’s customers (the employers). Although these initiatives just started in the summer of 2015, their progress is already being noted in their own areas and by policy leaders nationally.

Improving the Pipeline
Our new grant will help the U.S. Chamber and its partners expand on these early successes by creating a training academy, a train-the-trainer approach that will help the initiative expand more rapidly: The number of sites will expand to nearly 50 from the current seven; and the reach to employers will expand to nearly 1,000 from today’s 200.

As USA Funds continues its new focus on helping students to complete their education with purpose, the engagement of employers, the ultimate arbiters of that purpose, is essential. With our partners at the U.S. Chamber, that engagement is beginning to occur in a meaningful, customer-focused way.

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