Shift Happens: Major Shifts Impacting Workforce Development

by Danny Patterson


Happy Workforce Development Month! I want to salute all the vital work done by workforce development professionals. This salute is well-deserved recognition. But we are not done. There is much to do to shed the unspoken honor of being one of the best-kept secrets to job seekers and businesses in our communities.

Several years ago, I attended a regional business symposium that featured a business futurist. Of the many things he said, one stuck with me and goes like this – “in the future, your children will look at you and ask, so let me get this right, you drove 1-hour in rush hour traffic, paid to park your car and spent at least 8 hours working in a cubicle on the internet?” His futuristic view was very predictive and accurate. One thing is for sure, change always arrives. Regardless of its cause – shift happens. The pandemic changed things, but not all things.


Essential workers are our new heroes.

We recognized new heroes who continued to show up and provide critical services. Essential workers include grocery store attendants, truck drivers, warehouse workers, first responders, teachers, manufacturing, mail carriers, delivery service drivers, and our favorite barista team! A new term became common – essential worker. Those words surfaced an awareness in each of us – I am essential.


The re-emergence of work-life balance.

During the pandemic, the seismic shift to working from home allowed families to reconnect. Family and friends rediscovered leisurely dinners and great conversations together. This re-emergence of a genuine work-life balance is driving and redefining job quality and quality of life – and we want to hold onto it. It is changing the nature of work for many, but not all. As this definition takes root and grows, we have to identify the opportunities for business and the workforce development system. We must continue providing training programs that develop the right skills for our clients/job seekers to succeed in virtual work and in-person services. Not just for the jobs of today but also tomorrow. In addition to work-life balance, what are some other workforce trends creating this shift? A few observations.


The green economy signals major sector shifts.

All things “green” creates tsunami-sized waves across the economy, from energy production to manufacturing and Infrastructure. Consider the changes within the transportation sector as one example. State and federal mandates are forcing dramatic changes in the transportation sector, and these changes are dramatically impacting the energy and infrastructure sectors.


New rules are paving the way forward.

For example, new rules in California now require that “all” new cars sold in the state be free of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2035. It includes interim targets – 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold by 2026, growing to 68 percent by 2030.

Within the next decade, this mandate will drive (excuse the pun) change across the globe. It’s clear that if you want to sell cars in the largest auto market in the U.S., you will have to change, and that change will impact the current and future workforce, and the wave will reach many shores.

To this point, Ford Motor Company recently announced significant layoffs to make this transition from gas to electric vehicles (EV). They will have to, and so will all the others, nationally and globally, if they want to sell cars in CA. Already, the state of Massachusetts is considering following California’s lead.


Massive shifts ahead for the Energy and Infrastructure sectors.

In tandem, the energy grid and production systems will have to be updated and grown to accommodate the need to charge all our EVs! Stanford’s recently published study provides insight and analysis on the impact on the electrical grid resulting from this shift. My observations during a recent multi-state trip confirmed this. Where would we all recharge if more cars on the road were EVs? It’s obvious!

The transportation sector is driving change in our economy’s energy and infrastructure sectors. The shift is already happening!


The workforce system demands are always evolving.

Considering the change that is quickly approaching, the challenge to the workforce system remains unchanged. The national and local system collaborators, including our business partners, are tasked to attract job seekers and prepare them to succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s jobs. It’s that cliché, Think Globally-Act Locally. That’s our workforce system.

The incredible work already accomplished and being carried out today can be seen by a simple keyword search in your favorite search engine. However, more is needed. You might say that we are only just beginning. New pathways and deep collaborations are needed, nationally, regionally, and locally, where the services touch and impact our clients – the job seeker and the businesses in our communities—all companies, not just the large ones we can all identify.


Our business partners are our business futurists. 

To do this work well, we need to leverage what I think is our greatest system asset – our business partners. They are the majority on each state and local workforce development board, and there is a good reason for that! Business partners represent priority sectors and employment opportunities in our local and regional economies, the jobs of today and tomorrow. They also represent that economic shift – present and future. And they can help us see it and plan for it. We know many are already responding to it so they can stay open for business.

We do our best work together, whatever the sector or the amount of shift. Let’s engage our business partners in a meaningful way. Listen to their needs and then respond. To me, they are our system’s business futurists.


PHOTO CREDIT  Adobe Stock Photography