6: Sustainability

Why Discuss Sustainability Early in the Development Process?

Local Economies can Change Quickly

As the global economy continues to change at dramatic speeds, and as economic downturns and upswings become more and more common, it falls on local regions to adjust to the impacts they feel in their local economies. The speed of global economic change presents new challenges. Everyone must find new ways to stay competitive. For industry, this means employing appropriately skilled workers to help their companies grow. For workers, this means identifying and building relevant skills to be able to move into jobs in growing companies. Every sector initiative should select their goals and activities while keeping in mind the immediate and long-term impact on the industry, the community’s workers, and regional vitality.

Sector initiatives respond to the need for more innovative approaches to skills-based economic development, and to the need to implement those approaches in a nimble, flexible, and responsive manner. The success of a sector initiative to fill that role and respond to ongoing environmental changes depends on sustaining the initiative over the long-run, and strengthening the relationships across public and private stakeholders.

A New Way of Doing Business

When industry patterns change in a local or regional economy, the relationships built during a sector partnership across public systems and private stakeholders ideally remain intact, and the knowledge and ability by intermediaries to convene diverse systems becomes a lasting part of their portfolio of services. Some intermediary organizations, based on success with an industry partnership, convene multiple sector initiatives, each with a unique industry focus. As sector initiatives or partnerships become even more widely used, some regions are seeing an increased ability to quickly adapt and respond to industry changes in their economy. This is because they have learned that the sector approach to meeting the workforce needs of businesses and workers offers a new way of doing business.

For example, a region that has sector initiatives in their healthcare, manufacturing, tourism and recreation, and energy sectors is growing its experience and capacity by public and private partners in the region to use a sector partnership approach to meeting industry’s need for skilled employees, and workers needs for good jobs. If their manufacturing sector changes, those relationships and their knowledge of the sector approach or model remain in place - they can shift their focus to meet the needs of the new or changing industry.

This institutionalization of the sector model leads to systems change. True sustainability can only be reached when sector partnerships reach this point of systemic change.

This is Not a Short-Term Investment

Sector partnerships are not intended as short-term solutions. They are intended to be long-term and evolving, requiring multiple strategies over the course of their life. As the industry of focus changes, the partnerships are intended to evolve. Their products or outputs might be short-term, such as an industry analysis report, a targeted training program, career pathway materials or a career awareness campaign. These short-term products should always be in support of longer term impacts and metrics.

Budgeting and Leveraging Dollars

Budgeting for Your Efforts

Sector initiatives must plan ahead for the financial support necessary for its activities, products and success. For each phase of a sector initiative, a budget should be estimated and funding secured. Consider the following simple phases of a sector initiative budget:

Planning Phase Implementation Phase Ongoing Operations
  • Staffing
  • Start-up meeting costs
  • Regional industry analysis
  • Staffing
  • Product Development
  • Service implementation
  • Marketing and Messaging
  • Staffing
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Expansion
  • Marketing and Messaging

Customizing existing budget templates can be a useful tool.

Leveraging Private and Public Dollars

Sector initiatives make it possible for multiple funding streams to be blended or leveraged simply due to the nature of the diverse partnership. This summary from the State Sector Strategies Issue Brief identifies more than a dozen different funding sources for sector initiatives, and creative partnership have identified even more.

The most effective way to ensure sustainable support for the initiative is to show results that each partner, public and private, can relate to directly. This requires some idea of what really matters to each partner.

  • For public partners, aligning the work with how their funding streams may be structured will make a difference in how they can add to pooled or shared funding. Each system has its own performance requirements that control how their funding is spent or allocated. Systems also have some flexible funding. If leaders within those systems feel the partnership is truly valuable to their individual missions, they may be more willing to contribute these funds. Working with each partner to work through these details is part of the role of the intermediary in managing the partnership.
  • If employers can feel that their skilled labor needs can be met through the activities of the partnership, even if in the long-term, they may be more willing to offer cash and in-kind support. This often comes in the form of paid on-the-job training or paid time for training off-site. Employer contributions can also take place using an employer dues system, a fee-for-service system, or an employer match requirement.

Some of the more unique funding strategies include labor management partnerships, such as job training trusts, use of Food Stamp Employment Training (FSET) funds, or arbitrage funding such as a payroll tax bond set aside for worker training.

Other funding sources include: state and local workforce investment boards, economic development agencies, community colleges, social service agencies, employee assistance programs, ABE providers, ESL providers, local and national foundations (know their budget cycles!), or Governor's workforce investment discretionary funds. Keep in mind that each state and region will have different funding opportunities available. Some states have developed funding lists or maps to help their regions understand the possible funding streams available to them.

These powerpoint presentations describe some real-world examples of funding strategies for sustainability.

Sustainability is More than Funding

Consider that the essential elements of sustainability for your initiative can be found in the complete set of modules of this toolkit. Sustaining your partnership is much more than securing fiscal support for convening or product development. It is about: 

These powerpoint presentations describe some real-world examples of how sector initiatives approach non-financial sustainability.

As part of strategic planning, some sector initiatives embed the above essential elements into a sustainability plan that puts into writing: the definition of the partnership; the governance and management structure of the partnership; the operating costs; the financial plan; the strategies and action steps; the services and products; the performance goals and metrics; and the marketing strategies.

As your initiative evolves, consider drafting a short, one-page history of the effort. This can be an effective way to capture how the initiative has evolved, served its customers and stakeholders (employers, jobseekers, workers, community, and public systems), and how it has sustained itself over time. This can be a quick way to demonstrate effectiveness and need for on-going support.

Uncover Root Causes...It is Not Always a Training Issue

An important factor in the long-term sustainability of sector-focused efforts is ensuring that the initiative uncovers the root causes to skilled worker shortages for the particular industry. Often sector partners incorrectly assume that the solution is training related - they jump to the solution before identifying the real problem. The workforce challenge is not always a lack of industry-relevant training. It may be: 

  • A barrier to accessing the training, including schedules inaccessible to working adults, lack of support services such as childcare or transportation, or restrictions on financial aid eligibility.
  • An outdated human resource policy that is blocking qualified applicants from securing jobs in a certain occupation.
  • A misunderstanding of the actual skills needed for certain occupations.
  • A negative view of the industry and its occupations by the public.
  • Difficult working conditions which often lead to high turnover.

If the underlying cause or challenge is not uncovered, the pre-established training solution will not be effective; thus leading to unsuccessful initiatives and lack of sustainability.

Understanding Systems Change

Many long term changes require cultural and/or policy changes on behalf of the public systems or industry of focus. Sector partnerships, by their collaborative and root cause analysis nature, can lead to lasting and positive changes within the systems involved, including the industry. For example, as a result of participation in a sector partnership, a local (or even statewide) community college system may shift more resources into career relevant, stackable credit-bearing programs (versus its traditional role as a transfer station to 4-year colleges), or an industry may articulate career pathways and lattices that did not exist clearly before. Consider the following questions when thinking about the long-term sustainable outcomes of sector efforts:

Possible Indicators of Systems Change

Achievement of Scale: How many individuals and employers are impacted?

Shared Learning: Have previously un-recognized barriers to industry competitiveness or career advancement been discovered?

Changed Behavior: Have public systems, industry, and/or worker populations changed how they carry out their work and/or how they interact with each other?

Innovation: Are there examples of new practices that meet the needs of industry and individual workers?

Chapter 6 Review Questions

  1. Have you estimated and secured funding for the planning, implementation and on-going operations of the effort? Where are the gaps?
  2. What ideas for funding streams or additional partners do you have based on examples from this module?
  3. Are you still using data (primary and secondary) to make sure the needs you originally identified are still the needs to be tackled?
  4. Are you witnessing meaningful engagement by public and private partners?
  5. Are your efforts leading to changed behavior by public and private partners that directly address the skills challenges within the industry?
  6. Are you capturing lessons learned and applying them in a continuous improvement model?