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What Is Workforce Development?

Workforce Development
Workforce development is a broad term that can encompass a range of initiatives and strategies related to closing the skills gap on a community level.

Recent grads and more seasoned workers attempting to make a career change face a highly uncertain job market. Over the past few decades, an emphasis on earning a degree instead of gaining tangible skills has created a surplus of college-educated individuals struggling to find meaningful work. At the same time, it has also left many businesses that require specialized training understaffed, especially as the older generation of skilled employees reaches retirement age.

Correcting this problem shouldn’t be hard — most people want meaningful, rewarding careers, even if it means switching fields. However, connecting skilled workers with new opportunities, and informing students of which skills are in demand, remains a challenge. Most businesses don’t have the resources necessary to invest in training, and many students are unaware of the current skills gaps. The result is that, in smaller cities, smart, talented people are struggling to get by while businesses can’t access the human capital necessary to grow and thrive.

Workforce development programs are typically public-private partnerships that connect workers with the training or educational opportunities they need to find rewarding careers while helping employers find skilled workers.

How to Make Connections?

  • Working with education providers: Including high schools, middle schools, trade schools, career and technical schools, community colleges and universities, to develop programs that reflect local labor needs and creating partnerships with businesses for apprenticeships and internships or work-study opportunities.
  • Working with businesses: To identify the resources — whether it’s seed money, human capital, HR support or other — they need to attract talented staff and grow sustainably in new markets and changing economic conditions.
  • Working with new grads: To identify career opportunities they might not have been aware of otherwise and connecting them with employers who can benefit most from their skills.
  • Working with mid-career employees: to retrain for new and existing industries and find stable employment that leverages their maturity and experience in the workforce.

Workforce development programs are an investment in the people and organizations that make up a community. When done right, they can drive economic growth and make communities stronger, more vibrant and more sustainable.

What Are the Benefits?

Developing a workforce means addressing skills gaps, making training accessible and fostering communication between employers and potential employees. By working together, government agencies, educational facilities and businesses can mitigate the common barriers to retraining: lack of time, high tuition fees, uncertain prospects, etc. When these objectives are met, communities enjoy several big-picture benefits:

  • Unemployment and underemployment go down
  • Employees enjoy greater career satisfaction and a renewed sense of purpose
  • Employers have access to a large pool of skilled staff
  • Average wages rise and, in turn, the community begins to attract more talented workers
  • Businesses and the local economy thrive

Workforce development is successful because it addresses the real cause of economic insecurity — a lack of highly educated, trained employees who are invested in their community.

Why Should Workforce Development Be a Local Priority?

Strong local economies and low unemployment benefit everyone — so why should  local communities, rather than state or federal agencies, take the lead on workforce development? Every city is different and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for addressing skilled worker shortages. For example, a city with a booming tech sector will have different workforce development needs than one with an economy based on manufacturing or agriculture.

Making workforce development a local priority allows for more meaningful partnerships with industry and more strategic resource deployment. It also gives municipal agencies — and the residents they serve — more of a say in the economic priorities of the region, which creates better buy-in and ultimately more successful programs.

Workforce Development in Cumberland County

Cumberland County is one of the fastest-growing regions in Pennsylvania. As our population grows, it will continue to stress a workforce that is already experiencing a deficit of skilled workers in multiple sectors. To address this issue — and increase economic opportunities for employers and workers alike — the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation (CAEDC) has partnered with educators and businesses on workforce development programs in the following industries:

  • Healthcare: Healthcare is Central PA’s largest industry — thanks to an aging population and a wave of retirements from Baby Boomer-age professionals, there will continue to be a strong need for nurses and other workers. CAEDC has partnered with PinnacleHealth, Geisinger, the Cumberland Valley School District and the Cumberland Perry Area Vo-Tech School to identify and develop specialized curricula that will teach the soft skills necessary for success in this field.
  • Advanced manufacturing: As manufacturing becomes more automated and sophisticated, the necessary skills of its workforce have evolved. Throughout Cumberland County, there continues to be a need for industrial engineer technicians, industrial machinery mechanics, machinery maintenance workers and CNC operators — well-paying jobs that require a high degree of technical knowledge. CAEDC is actively developing programs for students and mid-career professionals interested in training for these professions.
  • Heavy equipment: Building the infrastructure to support our growing economy will require heavy equipment along with professionals who can operate, maintain and service it. CAEDC is currently working with several local construction companies to bring attention to career opportunities in their industry. Recently, we arranged a site visit to Volvo Construction in Shippensburg, where employers and educators had the opportunity to try out machine simulators and explore training partnerships.

By promoting collaboration between Cumberland County’s officials, the business community, workforce agencies, housing and transportation organizations and educational institutions, our goal is to create partnerships that identify skills shortages and develop innovative, on-the-ground solutions for addressing them.

How We Can Help

CAEDC is proud to be helping Cumberland County develop a more balanced labor market. You can read more about our initiatives and the opportunities they offer for students, parents, professionals, educators and employers, on our workforce development page. To get involved, please contact Laura Potthoff at 717-240-7197 or email [email protected].


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