Last fall, at the Tri-State Shale Summit, the governors of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania signed an agreement committing to work together to enhance regional cooperation and maximize opportunities for job growth in energy and manufacturing. The Cooperation Agreement called for the creation of four working groups —one of which was workforce development.
Following the Summit, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development took the lead and formed an ad hoc working group called the Tri-State Energy and Manufacturing Workforce Collaborative.
According to its mission statement, the primary goal of the Collaborative is to build a systemically sustainable workforce training network that engages and aligns public and private sector partners whose focus would be educating, developing and employing energy and manufacturing talent.
To achieve its goals, the group is focusing on creating a network of education and training institutions that will allow for interstate articulation agreements and shared career pathways, sharing labor data across a tri-state footprint, and addressing policy changes necessary for interstate and cross-jurisdictional data sharing and workforce funding.
Networked Consortium of Training Providers
A recent study commissioned by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, "Inflection Point: Supply, Demand and the Future of Work in the Pittsburgh Region," indicates that the region has a critical shortage in the working age population and that the demand for strong technical skills is growing rapidly, and it is critical that the region fully understand what skills and competencies need to be developed to meet industry demand.
"The Collaborative is looking at identifying high demand occupations that are common across the energy sector and manufacturing," says Laura Fisher, Senior Vice President – Workforce and Special Projects at the Allegheny Conference. "Recognizing that these are cyclical businesses, we want to empower talent with the ability to recognize the applicability of their skills across many different occupations."
According to Fisher, a critical piece to building a network is mapping all of the potential energy and manufacturing training assets in the tri-state geography. The goal, she says, is twofold. To create a network of training providers and to get the state governments to the table to allow for seamless secondary and postsecondary articulation agreements among the schools and training providers — even across state lines.
"We have been mapping postsecondary assets, career and technical assets, and assets from programs with relevant curriculum or an interest to be part of a networked consortium of training providers," explains Fisher. "We are focused primarily on those occupations that require certification or a two-year degree. But we are also focusing attention on how those can articulate to four years."
The Collaborative is also working to develop and validate with industry what the common training curriculum looks like. The goal is to create an industry-vetted common curriculum focused on high-demand technical skills deployed by secondary and postsecondary training providers and educators, resulting in clearly identifiable competencies and certifications that are understood and valued by industry.
"The presumption we are working from is that we created —through ShaleNET — a technology-enabled curriculum that can be taught in one or two years," says Fisher. "But, there is baseline-level skill that can be completed in a year." The goal is to develop this common training curriculum across the footprint so the same curriculum could be widely offered with the same assessment, and the same skills and competencies being taught so that a student could have a one-year certificate or they could choose to then complete a two-year degree.
A great advantage of the Tri-State Regional Cooperation Agreement signed in the fall, is that it can allow the development of common measures across three different state government systems for the purposes of workforce development.
The Collaborative is currently working on the development of common, meaningful metrics across the footprint that provide both quantitative and qualitative insight to ensure continued improvement to all parts of the collaborative, as well as transparency for all interested parties.
"On the data front, Rand has been spearheading a group of data experts with the goal of developing a recommended data sharing protocol around wage data and educational outcome that the three governors would agree to adopt," notes Fisher. "This would —for the first time — allow us to share data across borders, and from the outset, have real outcome data by which we can measure the effectiveness of the programs we develop."
Identifying Policy Changes
The development of a data sharing protocol is a key policy change the workforce working group is seeking from the three Governors and their Regional Cooperation Agreement representatives. Another key policy area is strengthening access to reliable high-speed internet. "There are significant areas in our region that lack reliable broadband access, which is increasingly important for students who need to access online lectures, they need to be able to do their work," Fisher points out.
According to Fisher, the group will also be looking to develop clearly defined and articulated pathways –and an agreement, or memorandum of understanding, from individual states for policy alignment around articulation agreement. She says that an agreement on issues like credit transfers is not simple because each state has different credit hour requirements for a two-year degree.
"We are looking at how you align and assess competencies so you can say an associate's degree in Ohio is the same thing in Pennsylvania, even though credit hours are different."
Fisher is confident that a tri-state focus on workforce development can broaden access to high-quality, industry-led workforce training in both urban and rural areas and grow talent in the region for high-demand occupations.