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Workforce Development Must Evolve with the Changing Economy

Last week, Massachusetts announced a $4 million federal grant aimed at promoting workforce development, apprenticeships, and job training as the economy continues its COVID-19 recovery.

The grant, which aims to connect women, people of color, and individuals with disabilities with job opportunities, follows a state proposal for $240 million in additional apprenticeship and job-training funding. The funding is specifically designed to connect job seekers with apprenticeships in proven, high-demand fields — health care, clean energy, IT, and advanced manufacturing — identified in a recent “Future of Work Report.”

In the past, workforce training programs have shown only modest gains in employment and wage increases, so the focus on emergent industries demonstrates a willingness to invest in careers, rather than just job openings. But to truly position Americans for long-term success in the new economy, it’s important states also consider their role in supporting entrepreneurs: proven job-creators whose new businesses account for nearly all net new jobs.

Given the recent pandemic-driven spike in new entrepreneurs, states must prioritize investing in the skills of emergent and prospective entrepreneurs as part of workforce development programs. A report from the Kauffman Foundation on challenges faced by entrepreneurs amid COVID-19 showed nearly half of new business owners reported information, education, and knowledge as a challenge — more than twice the rate of experienced business owners.

As written in ANBP, “workforce training should emphasize the acquisition of a mix of industry credentials and entrepreneurial skills so that Americans are positioned for long-term success, whether as employees, the self-employed, or business owners.” Specific recommendations include:

  • Prioritizing entrepreneurial skill-building, real-world experiences, access to networks, and new business creation as key components of workforce training programs.
  • Significantly expanding the number of entrepreneur support organizations that receive workforce training funding.
  • Empowering the 3,000 OneStop centers to be user-friendly outlets for information about entrepreneurship and to provide support for more Americans wishing to start their own businesses.
  • Including entrepreneurship and applicable information and tools in workforce training programs to help tens of thousands of young Americans start their own businesses.

Entrepreneurship is critical to building a sustainable and inclusive economy, offering pathways for diverse individuals to build generational wealth and reinvest in local communities. At this juncture, investing in future employers is as critical to the long-term recovery as meeting the needs of current employers.

So as policymakers — from Massachusetts to Connecticut to North Carolina to Illinois — unveil new job-training and apprenticeship programs designed at upskilling and filling jobs in high-demand industries, so too should they consider how to best equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the skills needed to launch new businesses.

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