Vibrant, energized, buzzing with thoughtful discussion–this was the atmosphere on the exhibit floor of the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) Forum 2014, where  late last month a key theme of discussion was the skills gap.  Many people coming into the workforce don’t have the skills employers are seeking.  And it was evident at NAWB that more and more Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) are recognizing that credentials are an important part of the solution.

George Burmeister and Pat Fox at IREC booth at NAWB 2014 conference
That’s George Burmeister and Pat Fox setting up the IREC booth at NAWB 2014

At its exhibit booth, the IREC credentialing team held a steady stream of conversations with WIBs from across the country who are seeking ways to be sure students who graduate from training programs have the skills they need to find a job.  For clean energy, they see clear value in identifying training that holds IREC accreditation.

There was much interest in what San Bernardino County WIB is doing –  asking training programs about IREC accreditation when they apply to be included in their Eligible Training Provider List (ETPL).  And most people we spoke with agreed that it was a good next step for WIBs to consider.  Adding strength to our message about the value of credentialing was the coordinated commitment of the Clean Energy Credentialing Coalition (CECC), which includes well-respected credentialing bodies focused on training, practitioners and equipment. This effort really made an impression; CECC brochures virtually flew off the table!

A second strong theme was data-based decision making.  To close the skills gap we need to understand which jobs are available and what specific skills are needed to fill them.  Several panel discussions focused on how to gather data and understand industry needs, and many vendors were on the exhibit floor with tools to help. One example is a company that aggregates all of the job opening data around the country, then analyzes it for what types of skills are required by industry for specific jobs.

Finally, in the general session, Arianna Huffington gave a powerful and inspiring presentation with a valuable perspective on defining success.  And early in her talk she mentioned how important it is to “spotlight what is working,” so we can repeat success. A long-standing mantra of IREC, her message reinforces much of how we work at shaping the future clean energy workforce –through the sharing of best practices.

One example I learned about at NAWB  comes from the Greater Metro Denver Healthcare Partnership in Colorado. The partnership has brought together some of the largest healthcare employers in the area with the local training organizations.  They selected the most in-demand jobs and the skills required for those jobs, then used the information to develop training programs that would ensure a supply of workers trained to meet the needs of those in-demand jobs.

“The Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC), has implemented a nationally proven model for developing regional industry specific partnerships,” says Emily Lesh, CWDC assistant director.“This model can be used across industry sectors to result in a competitive workforce which has the skills to meet business needs.”

Overall, there was clear value in this conference.  Many thanks go to NAWB for organizing such a productive event and keeping the focus on skills, credentials and learning from success.