Pathways to Careers
A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training

Navigating the Policy Environment

With few exceptions, state policies governing adult and postsecondary education, workforce and economic development, and social and human services are designed and implemented in isolation from each other. Far more often than not, these systems do not effectively work together to produce the kinds of workers needed in today's economy.

- Working Together: Aligning State Systems and Policies for Individual and Regional Prosperity, Workforce Strategy Center, December 2006, page 1

To succeed, career pathways must align with local, regional and state policy. Community partnerships need to identify local, regional, and state policies and institutional practices that may strengthen or hinder career pathways and then seek ways to overcome potential barriers. By identifying policy-related interests and concerns, communities can establish beneficial relationships with decision-makers. A scan of the policy environment can also help partnerships identify complementary or related programs that might benefit from collaboration and cooperation.

The stories below illustrate some lessons learned about navigating the policy environment by the community teams that participated in the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) initiative, a joint project of the U.S. departments of Education and Labor. Teams attended one of several institutes to receive technical assistance in partnership development, strategic planning, and implementation of career pathways in specific high-growth industries. They also include advice from consultants who work with communities on aligning state systems and policies to promote economic development. At the end of this section is a list of resources that are either referenced in the text or related to the lessons learned. Each resource includes a brief description and URL.

Lessons Learned

Target Legislative Leaders: Capture Their Attention and Appeal to Their Interests

Sometimes it's tricky to get state legislators to think statewide because they tend to focus mainly on their own local constituents. Partnerships should provide local information that appeals to legislators' interests in their local communities. But they should also look for opportunities to broaden their appeal. For example, the Campaign for a Working Connecticut (see The Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund in Resources), part of the Manchester (Conn.) team, has encouraged legislative leaders, such as the president of the Senate and the chair of the Appropriations Committee, to see their positions as opportunities to take a larger statewide role in budget and policy planning for workforce development. The campaign used statewide examples of workforce needs, such as the impending health care worker shortage, to command attention to overall workforce needs in high-growth industries. With increased advocacy from the workforce development, education, and health care fields, legislators were convinced to appropriate funds to create additional nurse training programs in state colleges.

An important part of reaching out to policymakers is figuring out how to approach the decision-makers most important to the initiative and appeal to their interests. In Connecticut, for example, the Governor and the legislature have focused their policy efforts on improving early childhood education, financing public education, and increasing graduation requirements. As a result, the Connecticut career pathways team is now trying to improve its connection with the K-12 education system. The team believes that policymaker interest in K-12 education will lead to interest in the broader career pathways system and to support for efforts to increase career opportunities for adult learners as well.

Another example comes from the work of project consultant Davis Jenkins in the state of Washington. The mission of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges includes serving low-skill, low-literacy adults. To bolster legislative support for this mission, the board used disaggregated data to show legislators the economic impact of college programs on the employment and earnings of their constituents. The board also was able to show how their local economies mirrored the statewide picture. "Community colleges in Washington State have political power," said Jenkins, "because they use data." Jenkins added, "Basically, colleges in Washington have earned legislative support through well-coordinated research and strategic communications."

Keep State Agency Representatives Informed

One way to keep abreast of statewide career pathways initiatives is to develop relationships with leaders of state agencies. But turnover among state agency leadership has been an ongoing challenge for the Manchester (Conn.) team. As a result, team members work diligently to educate new leaders about their work and its relationship to state initiatives. For example, their goal is to get the newly installed commissioners of labor, adult education, and public health on board to approach the governor with a unified message about the importance of career pathways to the state's economic future. It's important to include the rank-and-file in state government, as well. "We need to connect with the people who are doing this work on the ground and who are innovative in their approaches to meeting workforce needs," said Alice Pritchard, executive director of the Campaign for a Working Connecticut. Engaging state agencies enables the team to look at career pathways from a systems perspective, taking into account the roles and resources of the adult education system, the community college system, and the state departments of Education and Labor in their plans. For instance, the state's workforce investment boards, community colleges and their adult education departments, and local providers are working together to design innovative workplace education models in coordination with employers to assist workers in raising their basic skills.

Connect With Regional and Statewide Initiatives

Local partnerships can benefit by making common cause with regional or statewide initiatives on workforce development and economic growth. For example, in 2003, the Connecticut legislature established the Career Ladder Advisory Committee (see Legislative Report in Resources) and charged it with developing a plan for the creation or enhancement of career ladder programs for occupations with projected workforce shortages. In 2005, the legislature established the Connecticut Allied Health Workforce Policy Board to monitor statewide supply and demand for health care workers, to identify recruitment and retention strategies for education institutions and employers, and to develop recommendations based on their findings. The Manchester (Conn.) SPCW team very quickly realized the importance of connecting with these two state initiatives. It recruited Alice Pritchard, executive director of the Campaign for a Working Connecticut and consultant to both state initiatives, to join their efforts and to broker the connection. The team's efforts are now having an impact on statewide initiatives (see Allied Health Workforce Policy Board Annual Legislative Report in Resources). Based on the Manchester team's input, statewide advisory committees have recently been established to look at projected workforce needs for certified nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses.

In another example, the Waukesha (Wis.) team is expanding its reach by participating in a seven-county collaborative focused on regional economic development. In March 2006, Waukesha joined Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, and Washington counties in applying for and receiving a $100,000 planning grant from the Department of Labor's WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) initiative. In January 2007, the collaborative was designated a WIRED Generation 2 Region with a $3 million award. Because health care is an occupation that has emerged as a priority for the region, the Waukesha team sees its involvement in the WIRED program as an opportunity to support both local and regional efforts.

Work With Local Government

Partnerships should scan the local policy environment to ensure alignment with local government efforts. The Cullman (Ala.) partnership has caught the attention of the city government, possibly as a result of the team's growth, a local news show highlighting a team activity, and/or the team's insert in the local newspaper. Whatever the reason, the city approached Judy Bradford, a business partner on the team, to participate in a focus group to discuss the city's future. The focus group is part of the city's long-term planning process to produce a comprehensive business plan through 2030. The city invited Bradford to join the focus group to ensure that workforce development needs are addressed. "One team member was concerned that the city was just creating another group," said Bradford, "but in fact the city [managers] just wants to make sure they plan for our partnership's needs."


Allied Health Workforce Policy Board: Annual Legislative Report

Connecticut Allied Health Workforce Policy Board, 2007
Reviews current state initiatives involving faculty education, student recruitment and retention, college readiness, career pathways, and employer engagement in the allied health fields. Concludes with policy recommendations for alleviating health care workforce shortages.
Download/View PDF (108kb)

Career Ladder Advisory Committee: Legislative Report

College and Career Transition Initiative, n.d.
Annual report from a legislative committee created to develop statewide career pathways in Connecticut. Summarizes pilot activities to promote career exploration in health care, early childhood education, and technology. Recommends increased state funding to expand career pathways.
Download/View PDF (93kb)

Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF)

Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), n.d.
Web site for nonprofit organization that advocates for women's rights in public policy related to family law, education, employment, and civil rights. Supports the work of the Campaign for a Working Connecticut and links to research reports on career pathways in the state and other workforce development topics.

Working Together: Aligning State Systems and Policies for Individual and Regional Prosperity

Workforce Strategy Center, 2006
Report outlining the possibilities and challenges for state-level policymakers who seek to align policies and resources in support of worker advancement. Examines policy improvements that states can make to improve outcomes for adult students. Recommendations focus on six broad areas of public policy: promoting access to career pathways programs, improving alignment of policies and resources, encouraging transitions, incorporating employer demand into education planning, building capacity and financing improvement, and measuring results.
Download/View PDF (411kb)

Department of Education logo

This represents a major section of Pathways to Careers: A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training, a document that reports on activities connected with an initiative jointly sponsored by the U.S. departments of Education and Labor (the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce initiative). It was produced under U.S. Department of Education Contract No. ED-04-CO-0121/0001 with MPR Associates. Jessica Reed served as the contracting officer's representative. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the departments of Education or Labor. No official endorsement by the departments of Education or Labor of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Further, the inclusion of URLs is a convenience to the reader; it does not imply endorsement by the departments of Education and Labor of either the information presented on these Web sites or of the organizations that sponsor them. All URLs were last accessed on June 16, 2008.

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Last Modified: 05/11/2009