Education, collaboration and an educated workforce together describe the system of agencies and organizations working to build a pipeline from educated workers to the employers representing high demand jobs in Nevada.
One such agency is Nevada Industry Excellence (NVIE). The industrial outreach program of the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE), NVIE is administered by University of Nevada. When Dr. Thom Reilly was appointed Chancellor of Nevada System of Higher Education in 2017, he began working with the region’s legislators, community and institutions to adopt a core strategic focus for NSHE.
That focus is made up of five simple goals: addressing access to higher education, addressing student success, closing the achievement gap and ensuring all students graduate from the system, addressing workforce needs and specifically identifying the top 10 high demand jobs in Nevada.
Looking at the top 10 jobs that were identified, the board addressed how NSHE could work to ensure there were enough students heading for the workforce, and the type of workforce Nevada industry needed.
In part that strategy involved creating an advisory committee of all the major economic development and workforce agencies along with the private sector to help NSHE respond as a system to workforce needs.
Part of that effort involved increasing communications between the business community and individual NSHE institutions. From there, the mission became threefold.
The first is to create either more degrees or new degrees to respond to the current business climate and predict what the future will be and what its workforce will need. The second is to look at content as degrees are created to make certain the right content is included for industry needs. Finally, NSHE wants to determine how to deliver that content.
“We need to move away from only addressing a very traditional approach to education to offering more online degrees, to more hybrid, to more block programming classes in the community,” said Reilly. “That’s all part of the dialog we created with industry.”
In responding to workforce needs, NSHE established strategic partnerships like the one with labor that provides apprenticeships and internships for students. Another, with the K-12 system, centers around three areas, including workforce issues and dual enrollment.
“The focus we’re going to have with this new partnership is looking at dual enrollment for workforce,” said Reilly. “A large percentage of young people in K-12 don’t go on to a four year institution and, while not everybody needs a four year degree, everybody needs some type of post-secondary education whether that be a certificate or a two year degree, if they’re going to be competitive in the skill-based job market.”
Preparing pathways for students from education to workforce includes expanding opportunities for education and preparation for in-demand jobs in their own backyards. One component of that initiative, dual enrollment, allows students to take courses and earn college credit in high school.
“Part of that initiative is actually developing programs to respond to workforce needs,” said Reilly. “For example, HVAC is one of the top 10 high demand jobs identified by the Governor’s office. We cannot produce enough certified HVAC clinicians. We have a program at Western High School to enable students in two years to get their HVAC certificate and graduate from high school certified in HVAC and making $60,000 a year in a profession we can’t produce enough of.”
“If we’re going to be successful in preparing young people for either higher education or for workforce issues, the conversation needs to happen a lot earlier than high school,” said Reilly.
Russell Mickelson agreed. The CEO of STEM 101, a national non-profit with a mission to connect business, education and workforce, Mickelson said when you work with kids in public education and want to provide the opportunity to pursue a career they’re interested in, that needs to happen in middle school. By waiting until high school they might miss taking courses they need to have already completed.
STEM started with a program called Corporate Connections that took theoretical learning and made it hands-on so students who find a passion can pursue it. STEM develops workforce-targeted curriculum by finding workforce talent gaps and reverse engineering solutions by training today’s student to become tomorrow’s workforce. When the program caught on for kids, employers requested it for adults.
“We work with companies to essentially decode competencies that are directly connected to the talent gaps they have, meaning the careers that they’re needing to build pipelines for,” said Mickelson. “We reverse engineer that and build student experiences that showcase what that world is all about and give them a vision for how they can get there.”
Real World, Real Skills
In January NSHE and Clark County School District (CCSD) announced a partnership that would both look at workforce issues and at dual credit programs for students.
“These are two big components of where we’re going in the near future,” said Jesus Jara, CCSD superintendent. “We need to make sure our kids are ready for college, walking in and really eliminating remediation and really folding into dual credit programs here.”
Part of the school district initiatives include building apprenticeship programs with labor to create a skilled workforce for in demand jobs like construction, or building Nevada’s first wave of cyber security engineers.
“This initiative that I’m signing with our higher education partner is really a targeted approach where there’s equal collaboration between higher education and K-12 where it becomes really a K-20 partnership,” said Jara.
Change is the Only Constant
The partnering of CCSD and NSHE is only one of many collaborations of educational, economic and employment entities coming together to address workforce issues and industry demands for a trained, educated workforce.
Before the initiatives like dual enrollment and institutions such as the Office of Workforce Innovation for a New Nevada (OWINN) formed, Nevada’s silo mentality meant agencies worked alone for the same desired results – filling the needs of Nevada’s new and existing businesses with a trained and talented labor pool. Efforts were duplicated and programs weren’t easy to access because they weren’t easily found.
“What we’re finding now is a much more positive attitude to working together throughout the state of Nevada, which we’ve been pushing for years,” said Terry Culp, deputy director, Nevada Industry Excellence. “Organizations are now more interested in collaborating and coming out of their silos. They realize there’s a tremendous synergy and strength when we all work together to achieve the same goal, which is ultimately to improve the economy throughout the state of Nevada, help companies become more successful and help develop a real strong workforce to make that happen.”
The mission of Nevada Industry Excellence is to help companies improve (increasing productivity, reducing costs, reducing energy expenditures), grow (find new markets, create new products) and learn by implementing customized training programs. By collaborating with new partners, NVIE can help Nevada companies be more successful and meet workforce needs.
NVIE also partners with Nevada Department of Business and Industry on a variety of initiatives like workshops and events, and with DETR and rolling out Silver State Works (a financial incentives program) and the local workforce development boards.
For Workforce Connections, Southern Nevada’s local workforce development board, partnerships and collaborations lead to a one-stop-shop delivery system for workers and employers.
“The initiative [for collaboration between agencies for workforce readiness] was really highlighted when the federal law was signed in 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA),” said Jaime Cruz, executive director, Workforce Connections. “Every state was given two years to make the shift but things in government are not always expeditious and don’t happen as quickly as you want. It’s been a slow transition across the nation.”
In 2017 the momentum began to change to the positive due in part to the participation of public libraries in four districts in Southern Nevada. The eight libraries host one-stop career centers, freeing up agencies from having to fund those locations.
WIOA identifies 17 different funding streams that make up workforce or employment training services delivered by the one-stop delivery system. Only one of those streams is administered directly by Workforce Connections, so making sure all the other funding streams are present and working side by side is a measure of success, said Cruz. The funding streams come through departments like DETR.
“When you build a vision of the legislation and convene a taxpayer funded public workforce development system, then the results can be really great. The impact for people is magnified exponentially because you have multiple funding streams, multiple sources of help engaged at the same time in a coordinated way in helping more people up the career ladder.”
Collaboration in creation of Nevada’s workforce readiness initiatives involves multiple levels of engagement, led by various state offices including OWINN which addresses workforce needs by working with labor-market data and creating career pathways leading to industry-recognized credentials.
“It’s important that not everyone is working in different silos, with different various priorities. [It’s important] that we align our goals, systems and strategies together so we can help the vision and priorities for workforce development for the State of Nevada. [This will] ensure all agencies are working toward similar goals and alignment,” said Manny Lamarre, director, OWINN.
Two more workforce programs under GOED are LEAP and WINN. LEAP – Learn and Earn Advanced Pathway – is a fully integrated career pathway framework from high school right through to the university system.
“We basically formed a collaboration with all the players that needed to be involved. That meant the Department of Education, the school systems, the community colleges, support organizations such as NVIE were actually at the table from the beginning and put together a business framework structure,” said Karsten Heise, director of strategic programs, GOED.
WINN, Workforce Innovation for the New Nevada, is a workforce development training program designed to give businesses the trained employees they need.
“It’s important to understand they’re not in any way two different competing programs,” said Heise. WINN acts as a funding mechanism for LEAP administered by GOED in coordination with NSHE, Nevada Department of Education, OWINN and DETR.
“Collaboration is key,” Heise added. “GOED took the leadership, but without contribution of those partners, community colleges and the school districts to support partners like NVIE, this wouldn’t work. It’s essential.”
One more strategic partner in Nevada’s ready workforce initiative is DETR. WIOA pushed for collaboration between agencies and they’re still working together, each with its own niche. DETR’s niche as a job bank matching employees and employers dates back to the Depression.
“I’m much more comfortable today where things are at and that’s not because we’re in recovery and it’s an employees’ market right now in many industries,” said Don Soderberg, deputy director, DETR. “It’s because we’re working together and we’re communicating and that’s allowing DETR to do better partnerships, spend our money more wisely and focus on the hard spots in the community where although their numbers are better, they’re not taking advantage of this recovery as much as other groups or Nevadans as a whole.”
He added, “What Chancellor Reilly has done is first and foremost, get everybody together and ask everybody in workforce and organized labor how we can do better. We have these meetings that are great freeform and full of ideas, and since you’re there with somebody else who you might not talk to on a daily basis, you’re getting an idea for how you can work with them.”
That’s important, because all the training money in the world doesn’t matter if the program doesn’t train employees effectively and efficiently. “And it has to be in jobs that are there, Governor Sandoval once told me,” Soderberg said. “We want people to have jobs that have legs. What he meant was we want to give somebody a career that’s going to last, not just a job so we see them on the unemployment side of the house 18 months from now.”
“Workforce development starts when we send someone to kindergarten,” said Cruz. “You can argue it begins before that, with pre-kindergarten education, that workforce development starts with what a child sees in the home. So yes, we work closely with higher education, there’s somebody from NSHE who sits on our board and the law provides for a seat on our local boards so we’re all steering in the same direction.”
“This board looks like a triangle,” Cruz said. “It’s education, workforce development and economic development. When the three come together, that’s how you solve the equation of a ready workforce.”