Workforce development programs that fail to account for the needs of employers are likely to be about as impactful as a wink in the dark. Yet, many such efforts continue to rely on guesswork, supported as they are by the well-intended hope that the local or regional talent supply will magically align with the demands of industry. Business and civic leaders in Southern Nevada, which is anchored by Las Vegas, have come to recognize that as backward thinking, and they are doing something about it.
“It hasn’t always been this way,” acknowledges Mary Beth Sewald, president and CEO of the Vegas Chamber, from her office in the city’s Smith Center for the Performing Arts. “Educators have told me in the past that they were putting together a curriculum based on tradition or based on what they thought were the needs of the business community. Well, we’ve flipped that on its head. We’re asking the business community what they need as the very first step.”
Sounds simple, yes? In theory it is, but in practice it’s not. That’s because it requires buy-in across geographic boundaries, among individual businesses and business organizations, economic development officials and, most importantly, school systems that are typically overburdened and sometimes underfunded. And getting these forces to march in lockstep requires a firm hand at the wheel.
“We’re asking the business community what they need.”
— Mary Beth Sewald, President and CEO, Vegas Chamber
That’s where Workforce Connections comes in. As Southern Nevada’s Workforce Development Board, Workforce Connections was named joint winner — along with the Vegas Chamber — of the 2020 Laurie Moran Partnership Award given by the National Association of Workforce Boards. Aligning talent supply to the needs of local and regional businesses has become the organization’s top mission.
Ribbon cutting at one of the two new Employ NV Business Hubs.
Source: Workforce Connections
“We’ve taken very determined steps,” says Executive Director Jaime Cruz, “to make sure that everything we do with regards to the talent supply pipeline, starting in kindergarten and going past high school graduation into post-secondary skill acquisition, is structured and coordinated to meet the needs of business.
“Those businesses and their needs evolve, and that’s the hard part,” Cruz explains. “It’s a moving target, and so that pipeline you build has to have to have enough flexibility and nimbleness to be able to adapt in a sustainable way to the evolving needs of business.”
After some four years of sustained efforts by Workforce Connections, employers in Southern Nevada now enjoy access to the workforce development system as never before. In addition to 17 One-Stop Career Centers that serve job seekers, the organization now operates four Employ NV Business Hubs geared strictly toward employers. Locations at the Vegas Chamber and Sahara West Library were supplemented in 2021 by hubs established in North Las Vegas City Hall and Henderson City Hall, both within 20 miles of Las Vegas.
A team of four specialists operates the hub at the Smith Center. There, as at the three other locations, prospective employers enjoy access to a vast bank of job seekers and can also receive counseling in areas ranging from financial incentives to starting a business.
“It’s very personalized, much more so than online,” says Sewald. “The staff that work there are highly skilled and qualified. Not only can they help match employers to workers, but they can also provide a needs assessment to show a prospective employer exactly what they might need to get up and running.”
“Jaime and his team are plugged into nearly every business association in town.”
— Betsy Fretwell, SVP, Switch and Chairwoman, LVGEA
“Our Business Hubs,” relates Cruz, “can serve as their recruitment arm. Rather than an employer having to waste time searching through 1,000 resumes, we can use specific criteria to deliver five that represent the best possibilities in terms of what they’re looking for.”
And rather than paying the fees demanded by private search firms, employers can qualify for financial incentives by hiring through the Business Hubs and can also receive offsets for worker training. In addition, companies that hire through the hubs can qualify to have significant chunks of a new worker’s wages covered through the first 12 weeks of employment.
“That alone,” says Cruz, “can be $15,000 to $20,000 in the pocket of an employer.”
Creating Sustainable Talent Pipelines
Nevada is home to more than 3 million residents, with 2.3 million clustered in Southern Nevada’s Clark County, which includes the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson and Boulder City, and is one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation. Serving more than 300,000 students, the Clark County School District (CCSD) is the nation’s fifth largest.
Vocational education is geared toward seven target industries.
Source: Clark County School District
CCSD is tasked with implementing the educational goals of Southern Nevada’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). Developed by LVGEA, the strategy identifies seven industry sectors as targets for workforce development. Thus, the district has established vocational pathways in agriculture and natural resources, business and marketing, education, hospitality and human services, health science and public safety, information and media technologies, and skilled and technical sciences.
Some 65,000 students are enrolled in these career and technical education (CTE) pathways, according to Gia Moore, CCSD’s director of college and career readiness and school choice. Those who enroll in the program typically devote an entire block each day to their chosen pathway under the guidance of specially qualified teachers. The majority of CTE instructors, says Moore, come out of industry and have business and industry licenses.
“And in the case of our nursing and EMT programs, which are among our most popular, they have to complete additional training. Our nursing and EMT instructors all do training through the Southern Nevada Health District in order to teach those courses. They all come to us with the needed skillsets.”
Businesses, says Moore, enjoy a seat at the table during the design of related curricula.
“When we do any curriculum revisions or add a new program, we are required to have business and industry input. And every two years, we do a comprehensive local needs assessment, working with our business industry partners, to give us feedback on program improvement. Any time a program is written, we have business and industry partners on those committees.”
As such constant reassessment suggests, flexibility is built into the system. Currently, says Moore, CCSD is reformulating its CTE program to cut it from four years to two years, which will allow high school students to pursue multiple pathways before graduation. The school system also plans to expand its current roster of Career and Technical Academies, which are solely devoted to career education. Currently, there are seven.
“These programs,” says Moore, “have the highest graduation rates in our state. They have been hugely successful, so we’ll be opening more in the next few years.”
Also under revision is Workforce Blueprint 2.0, a data-driven compendium that identifies the region’s top 100 in-demand occupations to help envision future workforce needs. To encourage younger students to begin thinking about the many opportunities in their own region, a scaled-down and easy to understand Workforce Blueprint 2.0 activity book exposes younger students to the wide variety of available job opportunities
“The K-12 system,” says Cruz, “is the earliest section of the workforce development pipeline. Our youth spend 13 years in the school system and it’s critical that they are exposed to meaningful career pathways, the earlier, the better.”
Another important initiative, says Cruz, is the CCSD Workforce Fellowship. High school counselors are immersed for a year in the public workforce development system, allowing them to better assist youth to prepare for career choices in the high-demand industries in the region.
Partnership With Industry
Workforce Connections, believes Betsy Fretwell, is an ideal conduit for regional businesses to express themselves on matters of workforce development. Fretwell, senior vice president of corporate development and public sector for the global technology company Switch, is chairwoman of LVGEA’s board of directors.
“Jaime and his team are plugged into nearly every business association in town,” she says. “As a result of their active participation in these kinds of conversations, they are in a great position to understand the workforce needs of the business community and help us to plug whatever gaps may exist.”
In an effort to more keenly understand and communicate those workforce needs, Workforce Connections has embedded directors of workforce development within LVGEA and the Vegas Chamber. The Vegas Chamber’s Sewald says the arrangement has provided a “missing link” to her organization’s workforce development efforts.
“It’s brilliant,” she says. “It’s been wonderful for us to have that physical link to Workforce Connections because they bring a sense of nuance to workforce development that’s maybe more refined than what we do at the Chamber.”
Spurred by the efforts of Workforce Connections, that spirit of collaboration has served to draw in partners from across the region. Those on board include not just school districts and businesses but state and municipal government agencies, public libraries and community colleges.
“I think,” says Sewald, “that the pandemic has given us not just the need but the desire to collaborate more than we ever have before. We knew we had to do it, and then we found we really enjoyed it. It’s been such a valuable connection for all of us that we intend to keep these lines of communication open.”
A Higher Return on Investment for Public Funds
It’s still another display of regional teamwork that 15 of the 21 Employ NV Business Hubs and One-Stop Career Centers in Southern Nevada are hosted at libraries, chambers of commerce, community colleges and municipal buildings. That buy-in from public partner agencies, says Cruz, spares Workforce Connections close to $1 million annually on infrastructure costs such as rent, utilities and maintenance.
“These partnerships,” he says, “allow us to redirect those avoided costs to help more businesses. Those businesses in turn hire more employees. Everybody wins.”
The region as a whole scored a massive win in 2019, when the proven existence of a young and vibrant workforce helped persuade California-based Haas Automation to build its new 279-acre manufacturing facility in Henderson. A global leader in the manufacture of machine tools, Haas expects the $327 million facility to create some 1,400 jobs in the first five years.
“Nevada’s commitment to developing the programs necessary to grow a skilled manufacturing workforce is proof that Haas Automation made the right decision to invest in Southern Nevada,” said Gene Haas, the company’s founder and CEO.
To help meet the company’s workforce needs, the City of Henderson and the College of Southern Nevada are collaborating on a new education center to train potential employees in advanced manufacturing. A $2 million state grant is helping to fund the center, which officials view as a potential inducement for other manufacturing companies to relocate to Southern Nevada.
“There’s a constant tug,” says LVGEA chair Fretwell, “between trying to entice a business to expand here, and maybe not yet having the workforce that you need for that. But in this particular case, we’re showing a very vital business that’s growing rapidly that we can grow with them, and we can grow the workforce with them to meet their needs.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of Workforce Connections.
For more information, call 702-638-8750 or email info@NVworkforceconnections.org.
Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.