Workforce Development

In the intricate tapestry of local government, there exists an incoming meteor that must not be ignored—workforce development. Behind the scenes of every municipal initiative, from revitalizing neighborhoods to enhancing public services, lies a resolute team of individuals whose expertise and commitment drive momentum and progress. Yet, as the landscape of public service evolves and challenges grow increasingly complex, the need for robust workforce development initiatives within local government become ever more apparent.

While workforce development may be intertwined with some of the more basic principles surrounding employee management, at its core workforce development encompasses strategies and programs aimed at attracting, retaining, and empowering talent to effectively address the ongoing and diverse staffing needs of local governments. It goes beyond traditional training initiatives, encompassing strategic recruitment efforts, talent management, succession planning, and fostering a culture of continuous learning and innovation. Whereas traditional training is aimed at helping employees gain foundational skills and knowledge for their current job, workforce development is focused on preparing employee groups for promotions or shifting to other classifications of greater need. These practices must also be focused on the local labor pool to enhance knowledge, skills, and abilities to address current or projected vacancies in their area’s municipalities.

As local governments navigate the complexities of the 21st century, the importance of workforce development as a cornerstone of effective governance cannot be overstated. The Great Recession began to erode the perception of security within government jobs and was further impacted negatively as a result of the recent pandemic. Additionally, unemployment numbers continue to be at 30-year lows, driving up private sector salaries and making it extremely difficult for governments to compete. Further, the pandemic supercharged work-from-home alternatives, which do not mesh well with government operations needing on-site staff. Finally, the ongoing retirements of experienced employees as part of the Silver Tsunami continues to create vacancies in volumes that cannot be re-filled easily.

These factors underscore the critical need for workforce development, which may be the only viable option available to some public agencies. By investing in the development and empowerment of their most valuable assets—employees—local governments can seek to build stronger, more resilient communities equipped to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Here are some ways to start or improve workforce development within your agency:

  1. Recruitment and Screening. This encompasses sophisticated methods for recruiting, assessing, and recommending diverse candidates for a wide range of positions, spanning from beginners to seasoned experts, for full-time, part-time, and seasonal employment. Agencies can arrange job fairs and adjust office facilities for informal in-person evaluations and interviews, fostering chances to disseminate information about salaries, job market dynamics, and comparisons to other employment opportunities. Elevated recruitment strategies can also involve reaching out to veterans and individuals returning from service, leveraging their valuable expertise to enrich the local workforce.
  2. Pre-employment education and ability enhancements. This involves offering short-term instructional opportunities for those facing unemployment or underemployment, aimed at equipping individuals with the necessary skills to swiftly enter high-growth, high-demand professions. Additionally, there are longer-term development options tailored for workers displaced due to technological advancements for facilitating reintegration into the workforce. Certification programs offer alternative educational paths, complementing comprehensive initiatives such as those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Further, registered apprenticeship programs provide a structured framework for career advancement, enabling both current and prospective employees to understand the blend of classroom learning and practical guidance essential for success in designated roles or for securing promotions. Many organizations have documented the effectiveness of formal apprenticeship programs in bolstering recruitment and retention rates.
  3. Incumbent employee retention and upskilling. Besides targeting new talent pools, many states and local governments prioritize incumbent worker training as a pivotal component of their workforce development approach. Lifelong learning has emerged as the standard, with ongoing skill enhancement, commonly known as “upskilling,” being essential for keeping abreast of technological advancements and shifts in practices. Implementing these strategies can also serve as a safeguard during economic downturns, as employees who fail to display the necessary skills or adaptability may face layoffs.
  4. Transitioning employees. Workforce transition involves aiding workers in progressing to the next phase of their career or transitioning to a new, related career path. This encompasses transferring employees to separate roles within the same organization or supporting former employees as they transition to new positions elsewhere. Relevant actions may entail providing career guidance and evaluation, assisting with resume writing and interview preparation, cultivating professional networks, refining job search skills, targeting local job markets, utilizing assessments to gauge personal strengths, offering specialized training, and providing income support for transitioning workers.



Shane Silsby’s new book, Managing for Meteors: Preparing Local Government Leaders Before the Impact, was written to help cities and counties with development of leaders new to government or new to leadership in government.



Listen to Shane Silsby and Iris Lee, public works director of Seal Beach, California, on ICMA's Voices in Local Government podcast as they discuss professional development, permitting complaints, and capital project envy. 


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