Table of Contents

Welcome to START Toolkit, a step-by-step guide to setting up a sector partnership (a regional, industry-driven partnership of education, workforce development, economic development and other stakeholders) to address skills needs of critical industries in your region.

Welcome to START Toolkit

Dear START Users:

Welcome to a step-by-step guide to setting up a sector partnership (a regional, industry-driven partnership of education, workforce development, economic development and other stakeholders) to address skills needs of critical industries in your region.

The START (Sector Targeting to Advance Regional Transformation) toolkit is organized into 12 Chapters that walk you and your partners through planning, implementation and on-going improvement of your initiative. The order of the modules follows the life cycle of a typical sector partnership, so if you are new to sector partnerships, you can start at the beginning and work though each module one by one. If you are looking for a particular kind of information, you can "hop" in and out of the content using the table of contents to the left. You can also do a keyword search using the box in the upper right corner.

Each module is divided into several narrative sections that provide useful information on the whys and hows of growing a sector partnership, garnered from our extensive work with states and local areas. Where we reference topics that are described elsewhere in the toolkit, links in each section will take you back and forth to those sections. Most links, however, lead to the "tools" part of the toolkit. We are excited to bring you real tools from existing sector partnerships across the nation. You will find examples of actual agendas, power points, data analyses, marketing strategies, evaluation dashboards, and other tools used by partnerships in many different industries. These tools are available for you to edit and adapt for your partnership, or simply to be inspired by.

Introduction and Overview

Sector strategies are regionally-based, targeted industry approaches to building and sustaining economic competitiveness, and are increasingly at the center of state workforce and economic development policies. The central premise of a regional sector initiative is an employer-driven partnership that includes training providers, community organizations and other key stakeholders that convene around a specific industry. These partnerships work closely together to identify the workforce needs and solutions of that industry, allowing all stakeholders to streamline their efforts and resources.

Sector strategies foster innovation and competitive advantage in global markets through focused attention on key industries and development of extensive knowledge about those industry needs. Additionally, by focusing time and attention on the critical occupations that drive and maintain an industry’s growth, sector strategies contribute to a skilled workforce that helps employers to grow and prosper in a region. In addition, sector strategies often identify career pathways within and across key industry sectors. This can help expand middle class jobs by providing entry-level opportunities as well as subsequent paths to promotion with additional experience and expertise.

This toolkit is your guide to:
1) Determining if a sector initiative is right for your region;
2) Designing a sector initiative that builds on the needs and assets of your region;
3) Implementing and sustaining a sector initiative that meets the needs of key industries in your region, as well as the needs of workers, families and communities. 

Toolkit Organization

Part I: So you want to grow your region?

Successful sector initiatives begin with regional assessments of needs and assets in order to determine if a sector initiative will be an appropriate and effective solution. This part begins with a guide for a regional assessment and walks you through initial convening of stakeholders as partners.

Chapter 1: Deciding on a Sector Approach
Chapter 2: Regional Needs Assessment
Chapter 3: Convening and Planning

Part II: Designing a sector initiative solution

The heart of a good sector initiative is making sure the solutions are the right match for the identified needs of the target industry. This part is a step-by-step guide for facilitating the partnership toward a solution, developing a communications plan across stakeholders, planning ahead for long-term sustainability, and benchmarking for success.

Chapter 4: Managing the Partnership
Chapter 5: Marketing and Communication
Chapter 6: Sustainability
Chapter 7: Metrics and Evaluation 

Part III: Making it happen

Turning plans into reality starts with knowing where you’re going, and depends on the ability of the partnership to stay the course. This section is designed to help the convener of the partnership to maintain stakeholder engagement, facilitate progress and clarification of end-products, and develop tools that build capacity of stakeholders and their staff as needed.

Chapter 8: Maintaining the Partnership
Chapter 9: Early and Mid-Term Products 

Part IV: Keeping it going and growing

Good sector partnerships build in necessary time and tools to reflect and re-assess so that their sector-based solutions are continuously improved. This section provides references and steps to take in order to ensure that partners are learning as they go.

Chapter 10: Building Partnership Capacity
Chapter 11: Learning From the Work 

Part V: Inventory of Tools

The final section of the toolkit includes an inventory of the tools organized alphabetically, by module, and by topic area.

Chapter 12: Inventory of Tools

Taxonomy upgrade extras: 

1: Deciding on a Sector Approach

Why a Sector Initiative?

What is a Sector Initiative?

Sector initiatives respond to a need for more innovative approaches to skills-based economic development. They rely on local partnerships that are led by employers and include workforce development, economic development, education, and other stakeholders to identify and address the highest priority workforce challenges of the industry. These partnerships are each unique depending on the region and the industry of focus, but they share certain characteristics that define them as sector initiatives. Characteristics of sector initiatives include: 

  • They focus intensively on a specific industry over a sustained time period, customizing solutions for multiple employers in a region.
  • They strengthen economic growth and industry competitiveness, and benefit individual workers by creating new pathways into the industry, by sustaining/increasing good jobs and careers;
  • They are led by a strategic partner, or intermediary, with deep industry knowledge; and
  • They promote systemic change that achieves benefits for the industry, workers, and the community. 
Benefits to Employers:
A third party evaluation of sector initiatives in the State of Massachusetts showed a 41% reduction in turnover; 19% reduction in rework; 23% reduction in customer complaints; and 100% of companies reported that partnerships with other companies were valuable.

Why choose a sector approach?

Sector strategies make it possible for a region to focus on the needs of key regional industries. They bring together economic development, workforce development and education, advancing the way you think and act on: 

  • Economic development issues such as global competition, outsourcing, critical skills shortages, and linking economic and education strategies. Sector strategies foster innovation and competitive advantage in global markets through focused attention on key industries and development of extensive knowledge about their needs.
  • Advancement of workers and sustaining middle-class jobs in the current context where knowledge and skill levels across industries and in multiple occupations often do not meet industry needs. Sector strategies can help create new jobs and new opportunities for individual workers by helping to promote education and training programs, develop career ladders, and ensure the workforce is appropriately skilled to help employers grow and prosper.
  • Leveraging and aligning both resources and strategies to strengthen agility, flexibility and responsiveness for the benefit of industries and their workers. Sector strategies can bring coherence to the public response by making it possible to work across individually funded programs and focus priorities in the same strategic direction. 

For more information on the strengths of a sector approach, you can watch this video on how sector strategies promote regional economic competitiveness.

For a clearer picture of what a sector initiative looks like, see check out the many case studies later in this chapter, or this video of a panel discussion of sector practitioners.

Common Challenges a Sector Initiative Can Address

Sector initiatives offer a mechanism to meet the skill needs of regional industries, and provide job opportunities to workers in those regions. They address at least five common challenges, presented below.

Challenge #1: Single-employer focus.

Traditionally, workforce and economic development systems focus on single employers, rather than industries. This is challenging for three reasons: first, public and private resources are spread thin, and simply cannot meet the individual needs of every employer in a region adequately; second, thin resources are often spent unwisely when services are duplicated to meet similar needs of individual, separate firms; and finally, by operating within a single-employer framework, public systems struggle to reach economies of scale.

Sector approaches address this challenge by serving a group of employers within the same industry. Greater efficiency is achieved, and public systems develop an in-depth understanding of industry-wide needs, thereby increasing the capacity to target their response.

Challenge #2: Informal Mechanisms to Support Growth of Regional Industries

Public education, workforce and economic development systems often struggle to identify the high-growth industries in their region. Once identified, they may find it difficult to justify a focus on those industries. The result is a thinly spread focus on all industries, and a lack of formalized attention to the industries that provide the most potential for economic growth and jobs for local residents.

Sector approaches offer a formalized way to identify and target the industries that drive local economies. Using labor market analysis, public systems can identify high-growth industries in their region, and then address industry needs with a coordinated response across education, workforce and economic development. The partnership approach does not replace on-going activities by workforce and economic development with other industries and employers, but organizes resources and time to benefit critical industries.

Challenge #3: Arbitrary regional boundaries.

The geographic lines drawn by public education, workforce, and economic development systems often reside within geopolitical boundaries such as cities, counties or school districts, rather than aligning with natural labor market areas. This limits the true capacity of public systems to support industries and workers, both of which operate based on the multitude of factors that define a labor market region. Factors might include commuting patterns, proximity to airports and other major transportation routes, or concentration of firms within the same industry, among others. Employers may in fact be deterred from engagement with public systems if faced with a need to work with a seemingly arbitrary workforce development entity or economic development agency.

The sector approach operates within regional labor markets, as defined by industry analysis and labor market information. Depending on the true labor market region, sector partnerships often transcend geopolitical boundaries by coordinating response to industry across two or more workforce areas, economic development areas, or education districts.

Challenge #4: Lack of coordination across systems and stakeholders.

For state and local public systems, separate missions, funding streams, and structures make it difficult to focus on the complex, larger challenges that confront a regional economy. Without a mechanism for coordination across various stakeholders and systems, the opportunity is lost to collaborate, coordinate information and leverage resources in ways that address regional challenges.

Sector initiatives operate on the premise of a partnership of education, workforce development, economic development, employers within a single industry, and other stakeholders relevant to the challenge experienced by the target industry in a specific region. This partnership, convened and facilitated by a knowledgeable intermediary entity, jointly develops a deep understanding of industry needs, and develops customized solutions that address those needs.

Challenge #5: Lack of Meaningful Employer Engagement.

The “dual customer” approach utilized by workforce development agencies has significantly changed and improved how local industry is supplied with needed workers. In most areas, however, a key challenge is a set of missing tools that meaningfully engage industry in ways that close the short- and long-term gaps between needed and available skills. As a result, employers often look elsewhere to meet their needs by either leaving an area or recruiting workers from other areas or states. The risks in this scenario are two-fold: industries discouraged with their current location and public systems, and local workers left out of job opportunities.

Sector initiatives offer a highly targeted “dual customer” approach by maintaining an ongoing dialogue with employers in a single industry in a region. Engagement starts with a clear identification of the “pain points” of that industry (i.e. what is their common and most significant complaint about available skills?), continues with a deep analysis of why that “pain” or challenge exists, and follows through with customized solutions to that challenge. Over the course of a partnership, employers learn how to use public systems more effectively, and public systems learn how to support regional industry.

Browse the links and resources on the next page for more information on the structure and benefits of sector approaches.

Sector Strategy Examples and Resources

National Websites – A Knowledge Exchange for Policy and Sector Leaders
This website provides learning tools to design policies that strengthen regional economies through sector strategies. Interactive and comprehensive resources provide policy makers and sector leaders with an opportunity to interact with sector experts, examples of promising practices and access to the latest research and reports.

Corporation for a Skilled Workforce
Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW) is a national, non-profit policy organization whose mission is to help communities thrive in a knowledge and skill-based economy.

National Network of Sector Partners - A project of the National Economic Development and Law Center
The mission of the National Network of Sector Partners (NNSP) is to encourage the use and effectiveness of sector initiatives as valuable tools for enhancing employment and economic development opportunities for low-income individuals, families, and communities.

Sector Skills Academy – The Aspen Institute
To stimulate and strengthen growth in sectoral employment development, three organizations with deep roots in this field – The Aspen Institute Workforce Strategies Initiative, the National Network of Sector Partners, and Public/Private Ventures – have created the Sector Skills Academy, a unique leadership institute that emphasizes a collegial environment, peer exchange, skills acquisition and professional growth.

Workforce Strategies Initiative – The Aspen Institute
A project of the Aspen Institute, the Workforce Strategies Initiative (WSI) develops projects designed to evaluate and advance industry-specific approaches to workforce development. The WSI website contains extensive information on the Sectoral Employment Development Learning Project (SEDLP), a 4½-year, intensive learning evaluation of the outcomes, strategies and industry relationships of six leading sectoral programs. The evaluation offers insights to both practitioners and policy makers regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the sectoral strategy. WSI’s newest evaluation efforts focus on measuring the impact of sector strategies on employers and industry through their Business Value Assessment toolkit.

Public/Private Ventures
Public/Private Ventures is a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the effectiveness of social policies, programs and community initiatives, especially as they affect youth and young adults. In carrying out this mission, P/PV works with philanthropies, the public and business sectors, and nonprofit organizations.

Win-Win Partners
Win-Win Partners are companies and organizations achieving competitive advantage through community investment and national organizations that assist companies with successful execution of these strategies by providing them with valuable services such as research and market data, brokering, and networking opportunities with other executives. The Win-Win Partners project is an outgrowth of the Ford Foundation Corporate Involvement Initiative.


Case Studies, Evaluations, and Issue Briefs

State Sector Strategies: Regional Solutions to Worker and Employer Needs National Governors Association, November 2006.

Targeting Industries,Training Workers and Improving Opportunities: The Final Report from the Sectoral Employment Initiative  Anne Roder, Carol Clymer, Laura Wyckoff. Public/Private Ventures. 2009.

Career Pathways: Aligning Public Resources to Support Individual and Regional Economic Advancement in the Knowledge Economy Davis Jenkins. Workforce Strategy Center. August 2006.

Jobs and the Urban Poor: Privately Initiated Sectoral Strategies Clark, Peggy and Steven L. Dawson. The Aspen Institute. November 1995.

Sectoral Strategies for Low Income Workers: Lessons from the Field Conway, M., Blair, A., Dawson, S, Dworak-Munoz, L., The Aspen Institute. October 2007.

Asian Neighborhood Design: A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Development Approach Conway, Maureen and Marshall Bear. The Aspen Institute. June 2000.

Garment Industry Development Corporation: A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Development Approach Conway, Maureen and Suzanne Loker. The Aspen Institute. November 1999.

Wising Up: How Government Can Partner with Business to Increase Skills and Advance Low-Wage Workers. Duke, Amy-Ellen, Karin Martinson, and Julie Strawn. Center for Law and Social Policy. April 2006.

Labor Market Leverage: Sectoral Employment Field Report Elliott, Mark and Elisabeth King. Public/Private Ventures. Winter 1999.

Jane Addams Resource Corp: A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Development Approach Glasmeier, Amy K., Candace Nelson, and Jeffery W. Thompson. The Aspen Institute. December 2000.

Cooperative Home Care Associates: A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Development Approach Inserra, Anne, Maureen Conway, and John Rodat. The Aspen Institute. February 2002.

Working with Value: Industry-Specific Approaches to Workforce Development, A Synthesis of Findings Rademacher, Ida, ed. The Aspen Institute. February 2002.

Project QUEST: A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Development Approach Rademacher, Ida, Marshall Bear, and Maureen Conway. The Aspen Institute. August 2001.

“Benefits of a Sector-Based Approach,” Research and Evaluation Brief, vol 2 no 3 Schwartz, Sunny and Johan Uvin. Commonwealth Corporation. August 2004.

Evaluation of the Wellspring Model for Improving Nursing Home Quality Stone, Robyn I. et al. Institute for the Future of Aging Services, American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. August 2002.

Focus: HOPE - A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Development Approach Thompson, Jeffrey W., Susan Turner-Meikeljohn, and Maureen Conway. The Aspen Institute. December 2000.

Sector Employment Strategies in Central Indiana: A Prospectus Weinschrott, David J. Hudson Institute. May 2003.


State Websites

These websites from states with active sector strategies contain a wealth of tools and resources, such as model RFPs, guidebooks, and partnership examples.

Colorado: SECTORS

Georgia: Work Ready Regions

Illinois: Critical Skill Shortage Initiative (Southern Economic Development Region)

Massachusetts: Commonwealth Corporation Sector Strategy overview

Michigan: Regional Skills Alliances

Framework for Integrated Regional Strategies (FIRST) Grants

Sector Workshop Materials

North Carolina: Allied Health Regional Skills Partnerships

Oklahoma: Industry Sector Strategies Institute

Industry Partnership Guidelines
Incumbent Worker Training Guidelines

Industry Skill Panels
High Skill, High Wages Strategic Fund

Wisconsin: Wisconsin Sector Strategies Initiative

Things to Consider

If the challenges outlined above speak to you or describe similar situations in your region, a sector initiative may be an effective mechanism for change. You will want to consider a range of factors before deciding on a sector approach, including the following suggested items:

Industry Analysis: Seeking Out Economic Impact and Career Mobility Opportunities

Sector initiatives focus on one industry by engaging multiple employers within that industry to identify common challenges and implement a customized solution to those challenges. A key element of a sector approach is a focus on an industry that will yield the greatest economic benefit to a region, and the greatest job opportunities to a region’s workers. Another way of framing this concept is a focus on those industries that represent the “economic drivers” of a regional economy. Conveners of a sector partnership or early adaptors of such an approach will need to undertake a Regional Needs Assessment, asking questions such as:

  • Which industries are concentrated in our region?
  • What is their potential for growth?
  • What types of jobs are available in that industry?
  • Are there levels of occupations that signal worker advancement opportunities?
  • Are there observable skilled worker challenges experienced by that industry?

Convener: An Intermediary Entity that can do the Job

Sector initiatives across the country are coordinated by a single entity, known as a Partnership Intermediary. In each sector initiative, the convener varies depending on the target industry, the nature of the region, and the best fit to the needs of the sector partnership. For example, a convener may be a local workforce board, an industry association, a community-based organization, a labor management partnership, and others. Regardless of the type of entity, the convener is responsible for coordinating the efforts by the partnership. They usually possess knowledge of the target industry, they facilitate data analysis, goal-setting, strategic planning, employer engagement, and on-going stakeholder input. They do not chart the course of the partnership, but are critical to its implementation.

Employer Engagement Strategies: Maximizing their Time and Offering Solutions

A general rule for engaging employers is to respect their time, keeping in mind that as a primary customer of public workforce and economic development, they might choose to go elsewhere to get their needs met (e.g. another region, another state, another country). At the same time, sector conveners must engage employers from the very beginning if they expect industry needs to truly drive the dialogue and outcomes of a sector approach. This requires business-savy on the part of the convener, including the ability to “speak their language,” avoid jargon, and know their interest in being involved. See Rules of Thumb for Engaging Employers for more.

Regional Stakeholders: Understanding the Playing Field

Who in your region matters to the target industry, to the worker population in your region, and to the ability to connect workers to industry? Every early sector initiative undertakes a scan of the potential partners in a region. The stakeholders you engage will play different roles in the planning, design and implementation of the initiative. They also will contribute diverse resources, knowledge, and levels of commitment. Who are the potential stakeholders? They are many and diverse, including: CEOs or other industry leaders; trade or business associations; labor union representatives; industry experts; community based organizations that offer support services to workers; key public agencies such as workforce development boards or one-stops, economic development agencies, and others; community colleges or universities; community training providers; job placement services; and more. Initial conveners and early planners of an initiative will need to Identify Partners that best fit the needs of their region and industry.

Common Goals: Identifying the Challenge and Change that Inspires Everyone

An essential (and early) activity in every sector initiative is the development of a common mission that unifies the diverse stakeholder group toward a shared vision of change. The shared vision of change is not the same as a customized solution to the specific workforce challenge(s) faced by the target industry. That will surface later once an in-depth industry and labor market analysis is undertaken. The convener will play a key role in facilitating consensus around a shared vision for change, and can utilize any number of tools to achieve that end.

Resources: Time, Financial Backing, In-kind Support, and the Will of Partners

All sector partnerships, soon after their initial convening, face the following questions: How will we support the partnership? How will we support the implementation of to-be-determined solutions? How will both be sustained over the long term? A striking advantage of sector approaches is the ability to more effectively meet the needs of a regional industry by leveraging resources across public systems, and across private investments. The act of bringing diverse public systems together with employers and other stakeholders creates an opportunity to create new financial and in-kind support through blending, braiding, and leveraging existing sources. Sector conveners should facilitate early discussions about time commitments and expectations, and Sustainability Strategies should be outlined. This toolkit will provide more detail on the issues of financial support and longer-term sustainability in Part IV.

It is important to note that at this point in your decision-making, the factors listed above do not all need to be immediately addressed. This will come with time. However, they do all need to be considered. The remainder of this toolkit will delve into further detail of each of these factors, starting with industry identification and regional definition in Module 2: Regional Needs Assessment.

Chapter 1 Review Questions

  1. What about a sector approach do you understand will work for your region and your region's key industries?
  2. How do you see this approach complementing your existing workforce and economic development efforts?
  3. It's never too early to start discussing available resources to support a sector partnership. What are the regional resources (public, private sector, human, cash, in-kind) that you might be able to leverage to start and sustain your effort?

2: Regional Needs Assessment

Why is an Up-Front Needs Assessment Important?

Sector partnerships are regional solutions that focus on the workforce needs of a key industry in a regional labor market. Designing a sector partnership requires answering two questions: 1) Which industry should be the target of our efforts?; and 2) What are the skilled workforce needs of that industry?

Conveners of a potential sector partnership must use the best available data to determine which industry in their regional labor market has the greatest need for sector efforts and the greatest potential for regional economic vitality. The decision will be based on many factors, including projected job growth, wages and benefits, business concentration, current job openings, and other data. Identification of a target industry will also begin to uncover the workforce needs or challenges within the sector.

A deep understanding of the specific workforce needs of the target industry (and the underlying causes of the challenges) is a critical factor to designing a solution that fits the need. The partnership is responsible, therefore, for asking the right questions that lead to informed decisions about the industry, its employers, its current and potential workforce, and relevant resources in the community (such as education and training providers). The ability of the partnership to answer these questions will depend on the collection and analysis of information, both quantitative and qualitative. (Watch this video for an overview of how sector initiatives can use data to answer these questions, along with some specific examples.)

In addition to information about the industry, employers, workers, and community resources, a scan should be conducted to identify efforts already underway in the region that focuses on the same industry, and/or related challenges. Sector partnerships should fill a specific gap, not duplicate existing work. This is especially valid if the potential to overuse certain stakeholders exists. For example, two duplicative efforts may rely on the same employers for input, or may request financial support from the same private foundation or local public funding source. As a result, the two efforts may experience employers that feel overextended (and therefore disengaged or less motivated), and may receive less financial support than if a single unified effort existed.

Who exactly is responsible for undertaking the regional needs assessment? If you are reading this toolkit, you are likely considering or already beginning to plan a sector partnership. You may be the “initial intermediary,” or may be part of a small group of individuals or organizations that see a potential fit for a sector approach in one of your region’s industries. You can consider this small group an early “planning committee.” 

It is the responsibility of the “initial intermediary” and “planning committee” to undertake an initial needs assessment in order to 1) identify the target industry; and 2) begin to uncover the greatest challenges within that industry. Keep in mind that the “initial intermediary” may not be the long-term partnership intermediary, and the “planning committee” will need to expand to a full sector partnership soon. This will require the convening entity and early planners to identify and convene partners.


Region Identification

Sector strategies can also be called “regionally targeted industry strategies.” The word region is an important one, and defining the right region to target is an important step in developing your sector initiative.

While you may begin from an existing defined region – such as a workforce investment area, WIRED region, MSA, etc – it is important to realize that industry sectors and employers do not tend to organize themselves neatly in these boundaries, and you should not limit your sector initiative to them. The right region for you might not be defined or limited by political boundaries such as city or county lines, workforce development areas, economic development regions, or public school districts. Instead, your region should be defined based on labor market analysis.

In thinking about your region, there are two main things to consider. These are the labor shed (for businesses in the target geography, where do the workers live?) and the commute shed (where do people who live in the target geography work?). The US Census Bureau offers a powerful and dynamic tool called OnTheMap, which can be used for assessing both labor and commute sheds for nearly all states in the US. Detailed instructions on using OnTheMap are out of the scope of this toolkit, but there are tutorials available on the website. OnTheMap was used to develop this sample labor market analysis for the City of Detroit.

In addition to or besides OnTheMap, you can look for local commuting or transportation studies to understand where workers and jobs are located in your region.

You will need to define a region in order to do the detailed data collection described in the target industry identification section that follows. But keep in mind that your region may vary depending on the target industry, so it will be important to review your geographic definition once you start to narrow down your list of potential industries. You may find that employment in that industry is concentrated in a smaller subset of your original region, or that there are important clusters of employment located just outside of your original region of analysis.

Target Industry Identification

There are many factors to consider in identifying a target industry or industries for your sector initiative. The ideal sector will make up a significant portion of the economic activity and/or employment in your region. However, one must be cautious – in many regions, the industry sector that employs the most people may not be one that offers good jobs or wages. For example, retail trade and restaurants both employ significant numbers of workers in many regions. But the jobs in those industries are generally low paying and part-time, with little opportunity for advancement. Although there are exceptions, industries such as these do not tend to offer much “bang” for your sector initiative “buck.”

Your initial research can help you to identify the “key” industries for your region – those that drive the local economy, through the workers they employ, the wages they pay, and their connections to other industries in the region. It can also help you to identify developing industries, underrepresented industries, and competitive-advantage industries.

What is an Industry Sector? 

We have an intuitive understanding of what kinds of industry sectors exist. We can easily identify sectors such as health care, manufacturing, accommodations. Asked to dig deeper, we might specify hospitals, automotive manufacturing, or bed and breakfasts as sub-sectors of these general industry descriptions.

When it comes to data, the US Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics use a much more formal structure to describe industry sectors. It organizes data based on a numerical classification structure called NAICS. At the top of the NAICS hierarchy are 2-digit sectors that describe industry sectors in very broad terms. Underneath this, the industry definitions get more and more specific, going all the way down to a 6-digit NAICS code.

For example: 

NAICS 31-33 Manufacturing (Sector)
NAICS 311 Food Manufacturing (3-digit subsector)
NAICS 3115 Dairy Product Manufacturing (4 digit)
NAICS 31151 Dairy Product, Except Frozen, Manufacturing (5 digit)
NAICS 311511 Fluid Milk Manufacturing (6 digit)

Before beginning your data analysis, you will need to think about what level of industry data you are targeting. Data availability decreases as the data becomes more specific, to avoid revealing confidential data about a specific company or its workers. So - from a purely practical point of view – it is important to choose a level of industry analysis where you can get good data on industries in your region. Also, when it comes to actually convening employers to launch a sector initiative, you will want to be sure you have targeted an industry sector that has enough unique employers to recruit from.

In most areas, data is readily available at the 3-digit NAICS level. In very large urban regions, there may be sufficient data and number of employers to consider looking at the 4-digit NAICS level.

Building a Data Table

Factors to Consider in Identifying a Target Sector 

One of the challenges in identifying your target industry is that all data collection must be viewed holistically, not independently. In other words, for each piece of data available, you need to ask: how does this piece make sense in the context of other pieces?

One way to be able to see all the pieces of the puzzle at the same time is to create a data table that contains the key data on all sectors, all in one place. The following section of the toolkit describes one set of factors, data and methodology for building that data table. You can find other examples and how-to guides for industry analysis here.

A data-driven analysis is an important starting point, but not the ending point. It will be equally important to take a qualitative look at your potential target industries, and there are tools and suggestions for that included in this module as well. And while we’ve laid them out in sequential order, you can and should move back and forth and consider both kinds of data at all points in the process.

Building a Data Table 

The rows of your data table will include all of the 3 or 4 digit NAICS sectors that are represented in your region. In this example, the columns of the table will include five factors, described below. Download this spreadsheet to follow along with the step-by-step development of a sample data table - each step below corresponds to a lettered tab or tabs on the spreadsheet. Be sure to read the comments in the spreadsheet to see how challenges in data collection were addressed.

Data availability and user-friendliness varies considerably from state to state. The "data source" section tells you the name of the name of the data series that has this data. How you get this data may vary. Some states have very easy to use web-interfaces that will generate this data for you. Some do not. In that case, the state labor market information (LMI) office is your friend – part of their job is to provide labor market information for planning purposes, and you may save significant time and effort by asking them to provide you with the data. In many cases publicly available data is only available at the county level, whereas the LMI office may be able to aggregate the data to a higher level, such as a workforce area or a multi-county area you define. Data aggregated at higher levels will be more complete, particularly if your region includes small counties where there may be significant suppression of data to protect employer and worker confidentiality. Unless you are very comfortable with the labor market information resources in your state, you should start by calling your LMI office – in many cases they will be able to send you much of this data directly, and then you can spend your time looking at and analyzing the data, rather than collecting it.

Another option is to use a 3rd party source of labor market information, such as data from Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc (EMSI). These data sources often use a variety of modeling techniques to attempt to give a more complete picture of employment, but these modeling techniques may also introduce errors. If any data looks too strange to be true, it’s worth calling your data provider and asking for an explanation.

Factor 1: Employment

Answers the question: How many people did this industry employ in the most recent year for which data is available?

Why is this important? Size matters. Your largest sectors are likely to be important to the economy of your region, and initiatives in these sectors have the chance to reach large numbers of workers. Even small percent changes in terms of industry growth and decline can translate into thousands of jobs in large employment sectors.

Data source: QCEW (Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages). Collect data from the most recent annual average (data is also collected quarterly, but because of seasonal flows, it can be more consistent to look at annual data). [Tabs A&B]

TabB preview

Factor 2: Wages

Answers the question: What’s the average wage for workers in this industry?

Why is this important? Sometimes industries can employ a lot of workers, but not pay them very much. Considering wages in the equation can help you identify industries where there are good options for career pathways and employee advancement. Alternately, many sector initiatives target low-wage workers, and in that case you can use wage data to identify industries where there may be a lot of those workers. Be aware that wage data are averages, and very high wages for a few workers can mask a lot of low paying jobs.

Data Source: QCEW. Collect data from the same year you are using for the “employment” number. [Tabs A&B]

Factor 3: Historical Growth Patterns

Answers the question: How has this industry performed in recent years?

Why is this important? Growing industries are potential economic drivers. Contracting industries may need help to stay competitive or attract the right workers. Both growing and contracting industries may be good targets for a sector initiative, but that will depend on other factors and the reasons for the industry growth and decline. Beware of growth numbers in very small industries – if an industry has grown from 50 employees to 100 over the last 5 years, they’ll have a 100% rate of growth – but they’re probably too small to be a good target for a sector initiative.

Data source: QCEW. Decide how far back you would like to compare. 3-5 years will give you a good sense of meaningful growth patterns. Collect data from the earlier year, and calculate the percent change from the start of the period to the employment data you collected under “employment” above. [Tabs C&D]

TabD image

Factor 4: Projected Future Growth

Answers the question: How is this industry expected to perform in the future?

Why is this important? Estimates of how an industry will perform are important for the same reasons that you want to look to see how an industry has performed. But remember that projections are just guesses – education guesses – and you should consider the numbers in terms of what else you know about the industry in your region.

Data Source: State specific projections. These are usually developed at the state-wide or workforce investment area level only, so if you are defining your region differently, you may need to look for the closest fit, or combine data from two or more workforce investment areas. Also, they are only developed every few years, so the dates used may not match your employment year – that’s okay. You can calculate a percent change in the same way as you did the historical growth, or your state projections may include some sort of calculation, such as an annualized growth rate. [Tab E]

 TabE image

Factor 5: Location Quotient

Answers the question: In which industries does my region have a competitive advantage? 

Location quotient is a ratio that compares the concentration of employment in a defined area to that of a larger area, such as the state or nation. A location quotient of “1” indicates that the rate of employment in a given industry in a given locality is equal to the rate of employment for that industry at the national level. Location quotients above “1” indicate an industry with a higher percentage of employment in the local area than across the nation. Most economists believe location quotients at or near 2.0 indicate strong competitive employment advantage in a local industry.

Why is this important? A high location quotient indicates an industry that is concentrated in the region. Think automotive manufacturing in Detroit, or software development in Silicon Valley. Such a concentrated industry is likely to be important to the economy of the region, and changes in these region-defining industries can have far reaching consequences.

Data Source: BLS offers a location quotient calculator. Data is available for state, county, and MSA geographies (scroll down to the bottom of the list for MSAs, they are not included in the state-by-state listings). Ideally, you would use the same year for which you have collected your base employment data. Data is available to the 3-digit NAICS level (choose “subsector”). Your state may also have location quotient data available directly from the LMI department. 

If you are using a regional geographic definition that does not correspond to an MSA, you can calculate the location quotient for yourself by following these instructions. [Tabs F-H]

Other Data

Depending on the focus and goals of your sector strategy, you may want to consider other data points. If they are numerical and quantifiable for each potential industry, then you can collect them and include them in your data table. If they are more anecdotal or qualitative, then you may want to hold on to those questions until you’ve narrowed down your list and industries and are looking at them more closely.

Understanding the Data Table

Now you’ve got all the important data on your industries all in one place [Tab I] , but there’s still a lot to get your mind around in terms of what the data is telling you.

Conditional Formatting

You can use conditional formatting to quickly get a visual of which industries are important. You can highlight the top 10 or 20 industries in your region for each factor, or those that are above the median, or in the top third. Instructions for conditional formatting will vary depending on what spreadsheet program you are using, so if you’re not familiar with it, search your program's help files for more information. [Tab J]

TabJ image

Average Ranking

A numerical way to see which industries go to the top is to determine where each industry ranks in a given factor compared to all the other industries. Then you can average these rankings to come up with an average ranking or “score” for that industry. If particular factors are especially important to the way you are approaching your strategy – like wages, or employment – you can use a weighted average to adjust the score to reflect these factors. [Tab K]

tabK image

Based on the data analysis you’ve done so far, and looking at the industries through the lens of either or both of these methods, some industries are probably emerging as important to your region. They might be very strong in one or two factors (like employment, or location quotient) or they’re a solid performer across all or most of the factors. Consider this list of industries as your short list, as you begin to look deeper at the suitability of these industries for a sector strategy in your region.

This is also a good time to see if some of the industries you’ve identified could or should be grouped together into larger clusters of similar industries.

Considering Other Factors

Now’s the time to think about one additional piece of hard data as well, and that’s the number of firms in any given industry sector. You can get this data through the same QCEW source you used for employment and wages in the data table you developed, but this time you only need to collect it for the industries on your short list.

But data analysis can only take us so far. The cardinal rule of labor market data is that it’s out-of-date as soon as it’s published! So it’s equally important to take into account what you and your partners know about the industries from living in the region. In addition to data, there are many other factors that will help determine if an industry is a good target for a sector initiative – many of them not very quantifiable, like political capital or the presence of a strong employer who might be willing to act as a champion.

For the industries (or groups of industries, if you’ve decided some clustering makes sense) on your short list, you can use something like this tool to identify and think about the other important factors that go into identifying a sector to target. You might want to add other items to reflect issues that are particularly important in your region or political environment, like green jobs or career pathways.

Needs Assessment of Chosen Industry

Once you have identified the industry, you must begin to learn more about its challenges and needs. By definition, a sector partnership focuses on solving workforce problems affecting multiple employers in a defined industry and region. In order to identify the workforce issues within an industry and region, a needs assessment should be performed. This process will begin with the use of labor market information, and continue through primary data collected from employers and other partners.

What exactly are you finding out about an industry? Sector partnerships are not only focused on new jobs, but can also consider career advancement, the workforce pipeline or additional skill and training requirements. The needs assessment typically consists of reviewing existing information and gathering new information through various means, such as surveying and interviewing.

Secondary Data

Once you’ve chosen your target industry, it’s time to start learning about those that will be the likely target of the activities of your sector initiative – the workers! You’ll want to know what types of occupations are employed in that industry and in what proportions, as well as how much those jobs tend to pay and what characteristics and skill requirements they have.

Staffing Patterns

A staffing pattern describes the distribution of occupations within a specific industry. Some states will publish state-specific staffing patterns, and some of the proprietary data providers will generate staffing patterns for any region. These are great resources if you can get them. But if you can’t, don’t worry – at the 3 digit NAICS level, your region probably has a similar employment pattern to other regions around the country, so you can simply use the national staffing patterns.

Staffing patterns are available for individual industries from BLS, and this is a quick and easy way to get a sense of the key occupations in the industry. For the most detailed information, in a format that’s easy to manipulate and sort, you can download the staffing patterns for all industries here. You want the file called “National 3-digit NAICS Industry-Specific estimates” (or 4-digit NAICS if you’re working at that level of data), for the most recent year available.

This is a VERY large file, so you’ll want to select only the rows that pertain to the industry or industries you’re interested in, and copy them into a new spreadsheet to work with. Once they’re there, you can construct a data table about those occupations, using the data points described below, following the technique described in the industry section, and illustrated in this sample table. Details on what all the columns and notes mean are included in a separate file from the dates, so be sure to review it to know which columns you are interested in and what the various non-numerical notations mean. (Tabs A & B)


The staffing pattern table includes several different wage options, including hourly and annual wages, available as medians or averages and at a variety of percentiles. This data is useful to gain a perspective on the relative pay scales of the different occupations within the industry, but remember that this is national data. The same occupation in that industry in your region might pay a higher or lower wage, depending on a variety of local factors, such as cost of living. (Tabs A & B)

TabB image

You can get occupational wage information for your region from the same labor market information source you used during the industry identification step. As with the industry data, you may have to look at a couple of different geographies if your region doesn’t exactly match up to what’s available.

Also, at the state or local level, in most cases the occupational wage data is only available for all workers in that occupation across all industries, not for a specific industry sector, so you should take that into account when looking at local data. The extent to which this matters will vary a lot by the occupation. For example, cashier wages might be fairly uniform across all industries, but wages of registered nurses or other health professions will generally be much lower in a residential care facility versus a hospital or doctor’s office.

Occupation and Worker Characteristics

BLS publishes data on the characteristics of workers employed in each occupation. This includes the likelihood of part-time employment, likelihood of unemployment, and data related to most significant source of education and training, as well as the educational attainment cluster of occupational holders aged 25-44. Data for the 2006-2016 time period are included on Tab C of the accompanying spreadsheet, and an explanation of the data can be found on the BLS website.

TabC image

The educational attainment cluster data is a relatively new addition to the data set, and is very helpful for understanding the various paths to an occupation. Historically, we tended to rely on the "most significant source of education" data piece as a proxy for worker education level requirements. However, this data only reflects the mostly likely form of training that will result in a worker becoming skilled for that occupation. The educational attainment cluster data looks at the actual educational attainment of workers in that occupation aged 25-44. Combining these two data sets together can yield important clues towards employer hiring practices. For example, the most significant source of training for an occupation might be "long term on the job training," leading one to conclude that this occupation would be a good choice for someone without a degree. However, if the educational attainment level of most occupation holders is "college/some college," then it is likely that a worker without higher education may find it hard to compete.

TabD image

Note that this data is national data, and cross-industry. So while it can give you some important clues towards the occupations in your target industry, you will want to review these assumptions with employers in the industry to understand how things may be different in your region or among your specific employers. (Tabs C & D)

Additional Occupational Characteristics and Requirements

The O*Net Center publishes detailed profiles of each occupation, including numerical measures of knowledge, skill and ability requirements, tools and technology used on the job, and specific job tasks.

Information about Labor Supply

You will also want to learn about the characteristics of potential workers in your region. This includes data on age, gender and educational attainment available from the US Census Bureau, as well as unemployment data. Another good source of labor supply data are labor shed studies published by economic development firms specializing in business attraction. These reports attempt to quantify not only the unemployed workers, but also the underemployed, and include a variety of other information about the region's labor market. Availability of these reports will vary from region to region - talk to your economic development partners to learn if one has been conducted in your area.

Primary Data Collection

In addition to the statistical data that is available, you should collect information about the workforce needs as perceived by employers in your region. It is highly recommended that you conduct at least some field research to collect information from employers in your targeted region and industry. There are several ways to do this:

  • Conduct individual interviews. For interviews, develop talking points and questions for employers about their current workforce, current skill shortages, future skill shortages, current training, recruiting, retention practices, and what they view as their most pressing needs. Use the information collected in developing the mission of the sector partnership.
  • Use surveys. Surveys can cover the same information described above, or may be more limited and used as an introduction and invitation to greater involvement.
  • Convene an industry meeting, or similar event. An industry meeting is an opportunity to: (1) validate data collected to date; (2) gain qualitative data through a roundtable discussion or through a focus group to learn how employers react to the data gathered thus far; and (3) begin to engage employers and other stakeholders around a planned process, initiative, or strategy. In addition to data collected at the actual event, this is an opportunity to identify employers who are willing to participate in additional activities, or eventually in the sector partnership. (See more information and tools for industry meetings.)
TAKE NOTE: You may have noticed that although this toolkit presents activities in steps and phases, the true timeline of a sector partnership will vary depending on the current knowledge of the initial convener and planning committee, the industry, the region, and other factors. You may collect information from employers as part of your regional needs assessment, or you may combine this activity with the Convening and Planning phase. The reality is that both activities (employer input on industry challenges and initial convening of the partnership) often happen in unison, or as parallel efforts.

All of these strategies for collecting information, both statistical and qualitative information directly given by employers, should be heavily relied upon at the start-up of the sector partnership and in routine operations.

This means that data collection and analysis is an on-going activity, and should be utilized even as a sector partnership matures and evolves over time.

Remember that the goal of the partnership is to better organize the workforce development system to meet the needs of employers, which can change. The best way to meet those needs is to accurately identify them as they change. The advantage of a sector partnership is the ability to be flexible to changes in the industry and its needs, based on the direct input from firms in the industry, and the ability to bring in new partners that can help meet current needs.

Finally, based on the information collected on the target industry, and its workforce needs, a scan of resources and stakeholders in the community should be conducted. Initial conveners and the “planning committee” should ask:

  • What organizations do employers and workers in this industry use, if any?
  • Who is providing education and training related to the needs of this industry?
  • Who are the other “players” or stakeholders that should be involved in a partnership to address the industry needs? For example: Economic Development, Workforce Development, Chamber of Commerce, Human Services, community-based organizations, etc.?

Find out more about how to Identify Partners in Chapter 3.

Data Sources

State Data Sources

Check the user console or visit your group page for a list of data sources specific to your state.

Other Data Sources

The Catalogue of Workforce Information Sources was recently released by the U.S. Department of Labor and serves as a 99 page guide to all things workforce information including a guide to federal data programs, private providers (including EMSI as referenced below) and web portals (including referenced below).

There are numerous clearinghouses of information that provide users access to free and fee based information. One of the best may be This website allows users to query types of information by provider (e.g. Bureau of Labor Statistics) or data type (e.g. employment, quality of life, etc.) The clearinghouse includes links to both free information and fee-based information. The fee-based information is denoted by $ icons that make it easy for the user to know beforehand that there will be charge for data accessed through the site. Another diverse web portal/clearninghouse is found on the CareerOneStop site.

Strategic Advantage, a product of Economic Modeling Specialists (EMSI) provides fee-based labor market information at very specific levels of detail including multi-digit industry codes and zip code levels of geographic detail. EMSI includes modules on industries, occupations, and economic forecasting, and has a robust geographical information system package. However, there is a charge for the information, which is provided via an on-line account with twice-annual updates.

EmployOn uses spidering technology to aggregate online job postings, and has been used by some sector intitiatives to identify openings in targeted industries (see sample output).

There are several companies that specialize in developing industry profiles, which are typically used to give sales representatives a quick summary of the key issues faced by a particular industry they are targeting. These profiles can be very useful to sector initiative conveners as well, and are relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the amount of work required to collect comparable data on your own. First Research is an example of such a company. Free sources of similar information include globalEDGE, America's Career InfoNet and the BLS's Career Guide to Industries. These tend to be less comprehensive and less regularly updated, but are still excellent resources to understand an industry quickly.

Chapter 2 Review Questions

  1. Have you identified an industry of focus using labor market information?
  2. If so, what key information about the industry, its companies, its occupations, its skill requirements, its challenges, its labor pool do you have that convinces you and others to develop a sector partnership around it?
  3. If not, what data and information can you draw upon to identify the key industries in your region? i.e. what pieces of the plan to identify an industry can you put on paper today? What's missing?
  4. Based on what you know about a potential critical industry and its labor market, how are you thinking about the definition of the region of focus? Remember sector partnerships use a regional labor market as their geographic scope, not a county, workforce area or other geopolitical boundary.

3: Convening and Planning

Why Does Early Buy-In, Joint Planning and an Intermediary Matter?

So far this toolkit has addressed Why a Sector Initiative may be an effective approach to meeting the needs of industry and workers in a region, and some key factors to sector success (industry analysis, a convening organization, coordination across partners, employer engagement, etc). At this point, you may be wondering:

  • How does a sector initiative get off the ground?
  • Or, what is the first step to the development of a sector partnership?

Common success factors to getting a sector initiative off the ground are:

  • Early buy-in from stakeholders (including the leaders of the target industry) about the workforce challenge at hand;
  • Joint articulation of a desired change;
  • A Partnership Intermediary that can coordinate and facilitate development and activities of the partnership.

A number of factors may serve to catalyze the development of a sector partnership. While all sector partnerships are developed to fill an un-met workforce need in an industry, most sector partnerships begin under different circumstances depending on the geographic region, its industries, its public/private infrastructure, and shared readiness for change. The partnership’s evolution will also vary depending on how the industry is identified, and how a workforce challenge makes its way onto the radar of relevant stakeholders.

In all sector stories, the acknowledgement of a particular challenge in an industry is the first step to developing a sector partnership. Two common ways this might occur are: one, an industry is prioritized based on a regional industry analysis, and then a shared challenge across employers in that industry is identified via further data analysis and information gathering; or two, a common challenge across employers within the same industry emerges, is verified via data analysis and information collection, and then determined by stakeholders to be a challenge worth the time and resources needed to solve it.

In both scenarios, a Regional Needs Assessment is a necessary first step to uncover the validity of targeting a particular industry, and identifying the major challenge(s) within that industry.Once an industry is confirmed and some idea of industry challenges is identified, a formal sector partnership can be established to further uncover the root cause of observed challenges, and develop a joint solution.

Keep in mind that an industry may have many workforce challenges. Sector partnerships often begin their work by addressing one high priority challenge, but may evolve to address other related challenges within the same industry. Common workforce challenges include high turnover among key positions, difficulty recruiting or retaining entry-level workers, a gap between skills of job applicants and skills needed to fill critical occupations, high rates of retirement, a lack of human resource capacity, and others. It may be helpful to understand a Basic Typology of Employer Challenges that sector initiatives can address.

Engaging employers at this early stage is highly recommended in order to reveal what problems are common across an industry (as opposed to within a single firm), build relationships with the industry’s leadership, and to begin identifying which employers will be actively involved in driving the development of a solution.

If an intermediary has not yet been identified, it should be considered an immediate next step. The intermediary can play a significant role in the process of engaging employers and other partners. The responsibilities of the intermediary are detailed on the Step One page of this chapter.

Keep in mind that the initial intermediary (individual or organization) that has directed activity so far (such as needs assessments, initial employer and stakeholder engagement, etc) is not necessarily the long-term intermediary. Part of the early phase of needs assessment and partnership development will require identifying an intermediary organization that will best fit the needs of the partnership and the target industry.

These are the four questions you want to answer through the convening and partnership development stage.

  • Is there clarity about the challenge to be solved?
  • Is there industry support and willingness to move forward on a solution-based initiative?
  • Is there a willing and knowledgeable intermediary (or convener) to take the lead?
  • Are there obvious stakeholders in the community that should be involved as sector initiative partners?

To fully answer these questions, you will need to follow the four steps outlined in the rest of this module.

Step One: Identify and Employ the Right Partnership Intermediary

The right convener, often known as a workforce intermediary, implies an organization with an understanding of employer and worker issues in a specific industry. Sector initiatives utilize workforce intermediaries to engage employers and other key stakeholders, to coordinate information and resources, and to facilitate the development and implementation of an effective response to the identified challenge within the target industry. An intermediary does not chart the course of the sector partnership, which is the responsibility of employers in the target industry. Instead, the intermediary is responsible for mobilizing the partners and providing a forum for action.

The intermediary may or may not be the fiscal agent of a sector initiative. Some sector partnerships combine the responsibilities under one entity, the benefit being a more seamless approach to align partnership activities with leveraged resources. Others separate them in order to encourage a streamlined focus on the policy and practice changes needed to address the challenge, without the administrative burden of fiscal management. Whether the fiscal manager of the initiative or not, the intermediary entity must possess the appropriate staffing mix and skills set to coordinate the sector partnership. (See job descriptions of a partnership intermediaries.)

A variety of organizations can act as an intermediary, including employer organizations (such as chambers of commerce or trade associations), labor-management partnerships, local workforce investment boards or one-stop centers, community colleges, training providers, faith- or community-based organizations, placement firms, or others. A consideration often factored into the identification of an intermediary is the potential for a conflict of interest that may directly impact the decisions of a partnership. To avoid such conflicts, intermediaries are not typically a single employer or a single training provider. Here are some Real Life Examples of Partnership Intermediaries.

The first responsibilities of an intermediary will be to identify and recruit community stakeholders to participate as full partners in the initiative; to engage industry leaders who will participate as full partners and chart the direction of the initiative; to coordinate in-depth analysis of the industry and challenges it faces; and to facilitate the first stages of strategic planning.

Step Two: Identify Partners

Employers are the most important partners in any sector initiative because the partnership is built around their needs. To meet their needs, intermediaries must recruit the right mix of service providers that are knowledgeable about the industry, as well as the workers and resources in a region.

Some sector initiative intermediaries initially recruit a small group of stakeholders, heavily weighted toward employers, to act as an advisory group.

Key industry “champions” (defined as employers that see the worth and potential of a sector partnership, and speak on its behalf) can be the key to success during the early phases of an emerging sector partnership.

The exact mix of partners will depend on the region, the industry, and the types of organizations available. Here's a sample membership list of sector partners of an actual sector initiative.

To get the right mix of partners, ask: Which stakeholders in the community should take part, or who could be a resource in this effort? For example, who is currently working to match workforce needs in this industry with workers? Which employers in the industry are best positioned to guide the partnership’s activities? Who besides employers can bring knowledge of the industry? Who can bring knowledge of the region’s available labor force? To help answer these questions, consider the following list.


Employers are partners, drivers of the initiative, and customers. As such, they play a unique role in a sector partnership. Sector initiatives should attempt to engage as many employers as possible within the target industry and defined geographic region. Of those employers, the partnership should be driven by a set of industry leaders (such as Presidents and CEOs of companies) that are energized by the potential to overcome particular workforce barriers to competitiveness, and committed to working with the partnership to develop solutions. Such employers are often called business champions, particularly when they are active in the promotion of the sector initiative. This does not happen on its own, but requires the intermediary to actively pursue input, make the case for involvement, and encourage engagement.

Industry and Trade Associations

Industry and Trade Associations should also be engaged. They bring valuable expertise of the industry, can open doors to other employers within the industry that are not yet engaged, and can help spread the word about the sector partnership and its goals.

Economic Development Agencies

Economic Development Agencies are important partners in local sector initiatives because they likely have their finger on the pulse of local industry needs, risks for job loss, and potential new companies moving into a region. Sector initiatives are increasingly being used as part of state and regional business retention and recruitment strategies.

Public Workforce System

The Public Workforce System should actively be involved in order to use existing resources that bring employers and workers together. Local systems may already be addressing employer needs in the target industry, and could therefore serve as knowledgeable partners.

Educational Institutions

Educational Institutions are responsible for providing training for the current and future workforce, and are therefore keys to any region’s economic vitality if their curriculum, degrees, and credentials remain relevant to the needs of industry for good workers, and the needs of workers for good jobs. Sector partnerships should therefore include representatives from regional community colleges, technical colleges, universities, and the K-12 school system. Private training providers should also be considered.

Organized Labor

Organized Labor can have significant influence on training, worker recruitment, retention, and contracts. If they play a role in your region and/or target industry, a labor representative should be included as a partner.

Human Service Agencies

Human Service Agencies are increasingly a critical partner in local efforts to transition workers into training and job advancement opportunities. Sector initiatives often address labor shortages of entry-level workers, or discover a need to “backfill” entry-level positions after removing previously identified bottlenecks of incumbent worker advancement. For these reasons, the human service sector becomes important to provide support services and resources to low-income, low-skilled worker populations as they upgrade their skills and secure jobs.

Community- or Faith-based Organizations

Community- or Faith-based Organizations exist in many forms, and depending on their mission could be an invaluable partner in a sector partnership. This might include, for example, a private foundation or a non-profit organization that targets a certain population of workers. They can bring valuable knowledge about the particular needs of worker populations.

Local and State Elected Officials

Local and state elected officials often have a deep interest in supporting a particular industry or worker constituency group. Fully engaging them as a partner in the initiative’s development, or keeping them fully informed are both advantageous to the sector initiative’s success.


Other entities, depending on the needs of the industry, should be considered. Some sector initiatives involve transportation and housing agencies, for example.

Characteristics of Members

In addition to the above categories of partners, a convener may want to consider the following mix of characteristics and individuals in the partnership:


Regardless of what category of member they fit into, in any region there are specific individuals who will be important to engage, because they have the power to influence others. These include “do-ers” – people with a reputation for getting things done, “naysayers” – people who will rally others against the partnership if they are not brought on board, and “politicos” – those with formal or informal political influence who can garner support for your work.


Partnerships need information. Consider bringing on board individuals or entities who can help provide and make meaning of information and data. These include organizations that specialize in data and analysis generally and also subject matter/ industry experts. Many partnerships have engaged retired industry leaders who have substantial knowledge and experience. These individuals can act as a strong but unbiased resource for the partnership.


Across categories, think about the presence of decision-makers or at least those who have the ear of decision-makers in their organization. It doesn’t matter how many great ideas your partnership comes up with if there’s a lack of authority to put those plans into action.

Step Three: Engage and Enlist Partners and Employers

An intermediary should consider how and why the many and diverse partners are recruited. In all initial communications, share the purpose of the initiative. Provide an overview of the life cycle of a sector initiative. Explain why their participation is critical, and how their organization can benefit from participating (Sample Handout - What a Partnership Can Do For You). Be clear about partner roles and responsibilities.

Remember that employer engagement must start early, and can take different forms depending on existing relationships with employers, their knowledge of public workforce or education systems, the level of “pain” they may be feeling with their current workforce challenges, or other factors. It also takes time, and should not be rushed. (Rules of Thumb for Engaging Employers)

One of the most important success factors for a sector partner is a strong understanding of the industry, how it works, its needs and priorities, and future trends (see Chapter 2 for more on secondary and primary data sources). Conveners should use a variety of methods to build their knowledge of the industry and connect with employers.

The most important method will be talking to representatives of the target industry one-on-one.

But they may also want to:

  • Attend trade association meetings or trade shows related to the industry
  • Arrange tours of key companies in the industry
  • Talk to union leadership or attend one of their meetings
  • Attend public policy or community meetings that affect the target industry
  • Consider holding in Industry meeting or similar event

All of these methods serve at least two purposes: first, to engage employers and stakeholders; and second, to gather important information about the industry, its needs, and resources available to meet those needs. They also serve to build momentum in preparation for the first planning meetings of the partnership.

For more ideas on enlisting and engaging employer partners, check out this video.

Convening Employers: What’s in a Name?

The ability to convene employers may often hinge on the level of information and authority you seek (CEO, Human Resource Director, Front-Line Manager, or Line Worker.) As important is the expectation you set for the meeting. Consider that words can have a lot of meaning. Inviting employers to a “Summit” may indicate to that employer that they will be meeting with the highest levels of government; if that is not true the employer may be disappointed and feel as though they were misled. Consider some of these terms, often used interchangeably, and the meanings they tend to impart:

Conference – A business conference is an event organized by an association, individual, publication or private company for the purpose of networking, education or to discuss a business topic with a range of speakers.

Focus Group – A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a group of people are asked about their attitude towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members. (Source: Wikipedia)

Forum – Forums are a medium for open discussion or voicing of ideas, such as a newspaper, a radio or television program, or a website. It can also be a public meeting or presentation involving a discussion usually among experts and often including audience participation. (Source:

Roundtable – A round table is one which has no "head" and no "sides", and therefore no one person sitting at it is given a privileged position and all are treated as equals. The idea stems from the Arthurian legend about the Knights of the Round Table in Camelot. (Source: Wikipedia)

Summit – The term “summit” is one of the most misused in the public sector. To non-public sector participants, a summit meeting usually infers that the meeting will include top leaders of government (governors, mayors, cabinet officials, etc.) with considerable media exposure, expectations, and results that lead directly to action.


Step Four: Begin Meeting as Partners and Learn More

Once the core partnership of employers and relevant stakeholders is recruited, formal meetings of the sector initiative should begin. By the time the first meeting is scheduled, a set of potential issues should have been identified during initial regional and industry needs assessments, including individual meetings with employers and stakeholders, and an Industry Roundtable or similar event. The first and second meetings should focus on energizing the partners around this set of issues by facilitating discussions about the issues, and by guiding a process for their prioritization.

For the first meeting (Sample Agenda for First Partnership Meeting), the intermediary must facilitate the discussion in a way that makes clear the needed balance between achieving short-term outcomes and long-lasting change in each issue area. For each issue, the partners should articulate a problem statement, the impact the partnership can have on the issue, and general categories of strategies to undertake toward that impact. The intermediary should introduce the concept of a Logic Model and an Action Plan, or other similar technique for strategic planning. These models emphasize the importance of envisioning change in the foreseeable future, articulating goals toward that vision, identifying benchmarks that indicate successful completion of goals, and action steps needed to complete them. The partnership will want to embark on such a planning exercise by the third or fourth meeting. Another helpful tool at the first or second meetings is an introduction to where the partnership is going, a good example of which is the Roadmap to a Regional Skills Alliance for Advanced Manufacturing.

The first and second meetings should also: 1) Result in the joint development of a mission statement or vision for change; 2) Identify areas for further in-depth analysis; and 3) Begin to identify governance and operational structures of the partnership. This might include staffing arrangements (part-time or full-time coordinator from the convening organization or from partner organizations for example), the Organizational Chart, internal communication plans, and external messaging processes. Remember these items will be fully fleshed out as your partnership evolves, but it is always a good idea to start thinking about them early.

During this phase of the sector initiative, the intermediary will need to keep in mind (and where appropriate share with partners) some key partnership pitfalls and tips, such as:

  • Planning takes time – the process of gathering information and data, analyzing its results, identifying priority issues, developing a vision and goals for change, designing action steps to achieve the corresponding results, and identifying resources to utilize along the way… may take three months to a year of engagement and meetings.
  • No one has time to waste – Recognize that all partners, and especially employers, have competing workloads. Make every meeting a learning experience and a decision-making session. Keep meetings short and focused on solutions.
  • Recognize and reconcile as much as possible common sources of tension – i.e. money, unclear roles and responsibilities, and divergent missions across individual partners.

 See Partnership-Building: Common Pitfalls and Tips for more.

Chapter 3 Review Questions

  1. Have you identified and recruited a willing, knowledgeable and capable intermediary to convene your sector partnership? What are their strengths?
  2. What dialogue has occured with employers in the industry? What were the outcomes? Any new knowledge about workforce challenges?
  3. What buy-in has been secured from workforce development, education and training, labor (if relevant), economic development, community based organizations, or other stakeholders?
  4. What clarity exists around a shared goal or objective if a sector partnership is designed and implemented?

4: Managing the Partnership

Why is Managing Stakeholders and Activities Important to Success?

Every Good Initiative Needs a "Manager"

Recall that the Job Description of Partnership Intermediary emphasizes an ability to coordinate partners, manage information, and facilitate the design and implementation of solutions to employers’ needs. Often the intermediary is also responsible for the fiscal management of the initiative. To effectively undertake these responsibilities, the intermediary must: 

  • Dedicate staff time to the partnership. Successful initiatives often set aside a half- or full-time position for the task of coordinating the partners and information.
  • Take care of logistics, including meeting times, agendas, space, minutes and follow-up.
  • Build an understanding of each partner - how they want to participate, and what they can offer to the initiative at each stage, including planning and implementation.
  • Facilitate the development of a plan. This can be developed in a variety of formats, such as an action plan or logic model or workplan or narrative strategic plan. At a minimum, the plan must address long term goals, short- and medium-term activities, available resources and support from partners, and timelines. This should be the first cut at your initiative's strategic plan, which should evolve with the partnership.
  • Identify, secure, and leverage funding. Part of coordinating the partnership includes securing on-going fiscal support. The task of identifying, securing, and leveraging fiscal resources will fall on the intermediary, but should also be part of an open discussion with public and private partners.

Funding the Partnership's Activities

Funding sources may change as the activities and scope of the partnership change, but identification of consistent fiscal support is recommended. Sector initiatives across the country have leveraged many different funding streams to support their work.

Federal Sources State Sources Private Sources

  Discretionary Funding
  Title I: Core and Intensive
  Title I: On-the-Job Training
  Title I: Training Funds
  Title II: Adult Education

Food Stamp Employment and Training Job Placement with Retention

Pell Grants

Federal Work Study

State Discretionary Education Funds

State Economic Development Resources

State General Revenue

Unemployment Insurance Surplus


Industry Contributions

Federal Sources

WIA Discretionary Funding: WIA can be used for a variety of activities. Governor's WIA discretionary funding often is used as seed funding for sector initiatives, research, partnership development and coordination, project management and administration and can support a variety of operational activities such as training and supportive services

WIA Title I: Core and Intensive Services: These funds are distributed by local workforce boards and can be used to serve WIA eligible populations. They support a variety of activities, including orientation, skills/interest assessments, supportive service needs, career counseling, job readiness classes, and case managements.

WIA Title I: On-the-Job Training: These funds are distributed and governed by local workforce investment boards. They support employer or training provider designed programs and can be used for wage subsidies. These funds may be used to support employers or groups of employers, who must provide a 50 percent match. Local workforce investment boards must approve the training programs.

WIA Title I: Training Funds: These funds are available for WIA eligible and registered participants. They can be used for training up to a limit set by the local workforce investment board. They support job training, tuition and other training programs approved by the local workforce investment boards.

WIA Title II: Adult Education: These funds can be utilized to provide skills training to low skilled adults that lack a high school diploma or GED. These are granted as contracts to education institutions and community based organizations.

Food Stamp Employment & Training Job Placement with Retention: These funds can be utilized to serve Food Stamp eligible populations. They can be used to support skill development and create career paths among other activities. These funds are usually administered by the State Departments of Human/Social Services.

Pell Grants: These grants may be used to provide for tuition, living expenses, materials, and other expenses for eligible low-income students.

Federal Work Study: These funds, administered by the U.S. Department of Education directly to accredited educational institutions, can be used to subsidize a student's wages. Campuses may target these resources to provide work subsidies for students in sector based training programs.

State Sources

State Discretionary Education Funds: Many states have utilized education funds to support sector strategies. In post secondary institutions, many states have utilized education funding to create new industry-aligned curricula, create short-term program models, and create customized training and other activities that reshape educational institutions to be more industry responsive.

State Economic Development Resources: Some states have developed training tax credits for groups of employers to train new entrant or incumbent workers that allow workers to enter or advance within an industry. Some states also have utilized state economic development resources to train workers for firms that relocate or expand in the state.

State General Revenue: General revenue can be used to support a wide range of activities. Many states have developed grant funds to provide start-up capital for sector initiatives, pay for training for new entry workers and incumbents, provide scholarships to participants, and conduct a number of research, analysis and evaluation activities.

Unemployment Insurance Surplus: Some states have utilized surpluses in unemployment insurance revenue to incumbent worker grant funds to provide skills training to allow workers to advance in the workplace.

Private Sources

Foundations: Foundation resources support a range of activities at various stages of a sector initiative. Usually foundation resources have been used as start-up capital to convene a sector initiative and develop partnerships. However, foundation resources also have been used to provide training, supportive services, and project management.

Industry Contributions: Employer partners provide financial and in-kind contributions to sector initiatives that support various aspects of sector initiatives, including paid release time, tuition reimbursement, materials, instructors, facilities, skills testing, and marketing/recruitment among others.


Extracted from: National Governors Association Issue Brief, Sector Strategies: Regional Solutions to Employers' and Workers' Needs, November 2006. Sources: “Building Bridges, Funding Stream Glossary” (2003) Chicago Jobs Council and Women Employed, Chicago IL. Bidot-Cruz, Alexandra (2003) “State-level Investments in Workforce Development” The National Network of Sector Partners, the National Economic Development and Law Center, Oakland CA

Direction, Connection, Momentum and Energy

Every Partnership Needs Direction and Connection

The heart of a good sector partnership is making sure the solutions are the right match for the identified workforce needs of the target industry. This implies a need by the Partnership Intermediary to facilitate the direction of the partnership without setting its course. The intermediary is responsible for mobilizing the partners and providing a forum for actions that connect to longer term goals. The employer members are responsible for charting the course of the initiative based on their shared needs.

What is the role of the public workforce system and other partners? They must participate, listen carefully to what employers are saying, draw on their knowledge of what their systems can offer, and help design and implement joint solutions to the employers’ needs. With employers, public systems and other private stakeholders at the table, the intermediary must manage their input, ideas, questions, and even their doubts.

Does this sound familiar?

    * We tried that 10 years ago, and it didn’t work.

If this sounds familiar, this is a chance to ask some questions that help illuminate why “it didn’t work.” In other words, there may be a good reason why that curriculum developed 10 years ago (or even last year) is sitting on a shelf. It may not have been the right solution. This could be because the actual problem was never identified, despite best intentions.

What about this?

    * We’ve been doing that for years. You’ve just never known about it.
    * “So-and-so” has been doing that for years. We just need to market their program on a wider scale.

If these sound familiar, you may be entering into the dangerous territory of “Here’s the solution. Do you have our problem?” instead of “Here’s the problem. What’s the underlying cause of the problem? What is the right solution?”

Managing the partnership is more than just coordination. It requires facilitating partners in a way that breaks through the surface of the challenges facing employers in order to identify their underlying root causes. It also requires facilitating second looks at existing programs that may or may not be solutions to the challenges. Making these key connections will provide direction to the partnership that will help to ensure the best possible solutions are identified and implemented.

Every Initiative Needs a Way to Maintain Momentum and Energy

Every initiative faces the challenge of maintaining the energy that may have jumpstarted the effort. In fact, if the intermediary and/or a set of Employer Champions do not continue to provide leadership and outreach to partners, momentum may even wane immediately following the first meeting. Why does this happen? Because each stakeholder must return to their firm, agency or organization and confront the ultimate questions: Does this effort support my needs, my organization’s mission? Is this the right place to put my energy and my organization’s time?

To avoid downturns in energy, the intermediary of the partnership will need to follow a certain set of steps that immediately follow any initial engagement or “Kick-off” meetings, including:

  • Begin meeting regularly, but always have a clear objective for each meeting (never meet for the sake of meeting). Remember to be cautious with the time offered by or required of employer members.
  • Name your effort. This is a good time to get input from partners on what this group is really all about. Naming your effort (e.g. The Manufacturing Roundtable, the Healthcare Career Services Council, M-Powered, or the Extended Care Career Ladder Initiative) is an easy, fun way to create buy-in and ownership from partners.
  • Begin to implement the steps in your initiative's plan immediately, understanding that the plan can (and should) always evolve based on new input by the partnership. Make it clear to partners that this is the transition from the planning phase into the implementation phase.
  • Identify programs, resources, and policies that affect the nature of the industry’s workforce challenges. This is often referred to as a “resource map” or “program scan.” It also should evolve as new programs or resources are discovered.

It may be helpful to envision the natural life cycle of a sector initiative to understand where and how management is needed. This is also a useful tool to share with partners.

Staffing the Partnership

Every sector initiative needs a dedicated intermediary to coordinate its activities, and every intermediary must dedicate the right staff time to carry out needed coordination. The risks of not dedicating time and staff to the effort run high, including setting expectations for outcomes that cannot be realized, and mobilizing partners only to have them leave discouraged. When staffing the initiative, consider that:

  • Funding for one or more staff persons may be best secured by leveraging joint investments from key partners. Alternatively, if start-up funding to support a staff person can be secured for the first six-months or year, the partnership might be willing to jointly fund his/her continuation based on early success.
  • The job description of the staff person(s) should highlight some basic requirements, including a high level of organization, good customer relations, the ability to listen, and the capacity to facilitate a diverse group of stakeholders. He/she must also be able to communicate the purpose of the partnership, explain how each stakeholder can benefit from the partnership, and clarify roles and responsibilities of members. The most effective intermediaries also have an understanding of the issues that confront the specific industry sector, and often are recruited from the ranks of the industry.

Creating a Strategic Plan

Sector initiatives require a fine balance between maintaining focus on the goals and tasks at-hand and being open to new ideas or changes in course. This is where a road map can be useful. When changes occur (such as new members entering the partnership; a shift in immediate skills challenges in the industry; sudden changes to funding), the partnership needs a way to accomodate changing circumstances while staying focused on longer term goals. Developing a strategic plan early in the initiative's lifecycle will make this easier. It will also offer the partnership a framework for focusing decision-making, for defining success, and for maximizing limited time and resources.

A good strategic plan is more than a timeline of tasks toward a future goal. It should build directly off of the regional and industry analysis conducted in the early phases of the partnership's development. It should include a traditional SWOT analysis that walks the partners through potential strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the initiative. It should take into account current economic and political trends. Most importantly, it should include a unifying vision of the change desired by the partners. A set of clear goals (stick to 3 to 5) should be developed by consensus of the partnership, and each goal should be articulated with a measurable indicator of success. Getting all this on paper requires facilitation either by the intermediary or a third-party facilitator. This toolkit includes a variety of strategic planning tools that can help. A strategic plan is never final or set in stone, but it is a blueprint for the partnership to take action and monitor their progress.

Coordinating Logistics and Information

Coordinating Logistics

Taking care of the “administrivia” of a sector initiative is the responsibility of the intermediary, and can be a significant task, including:

  • Coordinating the logistics of meetings, such as invitations, securing a site, obtaining tools such as audio-visual equipment and flip-charts, making copies of the agenda and materials, and arranging for food and beverages if expected.
  • Being the timekeeper at meetings so they are efficient and respect the time of all members.
  • Creating focused agendas and facilitating effective meetings.
  • Aiding and coordinating the implementation of the actual activities of the partnership beyond meetings, such as industry analyses or the development of products.
  • Following up with individual members to keep them informed and involved, and to check their progress or needs on commitments and activities.
  • Arranging one-on-one meetings between stakeholders or members, or setting up special work groups or committees as the partnership moves forward. This might include establishing an advisory group or executive committee of the partnership to help guide and move the initiative forward effectively. 

Organizing Information

Prioritizing the information that the partners of a sector initiative discuss, decide, request, and offer is a primary function of an intermediary, and can take significant time and skill. The task of organizing information may include: 

  • Creating a formalized organizational chart for your initiative that illustrates lines of decision-making and levels of member participation.
  • Keeping and distributing meeting minutes and meeting agendas with notes so all partners are informed of decisions and next steps.
  • Tracking and sharing decisions made outside of formal meetings, such as those made during one-on-one conversations. This can be easily done by maintaining a decision log document or similar online tool.
  • Creating effective agendas for meetings that directly build on decisions and next steps offered through input from partners, and that ensures forward-movement of the initiative.
  • Maintaining an on-line blog or similar product where partners can immediately access information and add thoughts or links to resources.
  • Overseeing the collection and analysis of data that supports the evaluation criteria established by the sector partnership.

Chapter 4 Review Questions

  1. What is your staffing plan to coordinate and manage the logistics of the partnership?
  2. What are your plans for managing information across partners?
  3. What timeline and expectations does the partnership have for implementing your sector initiative? Consider where you want to be in 6 and 12 months.
  4. What fiscal support does the partnership have right now? How will you leverage additional and on-going support?

5: Marketing and Communication

Why does an Effective Marketing Strategy = Success?

It Emphasizes "the New" over the Current

The importance of effective marketing of the partnership, its vision and goals, and its activities cannot be stressed enough. The good news is that marketing can happen in many different ways, both big and small. Communications Strategies can range from simple (and cheap) to complicated (and expensive). In fact, many marketing strategies do not take a lot of time and resources, and can be developed easily from existing materials. Most marketing brochures, for example, are public versions of an initiative's strategic plan, including a problem statement, the vision of the change needed, the goals and strategies to get there, and often a call-to-action or invitation to participate.

Consider that in order to effectively market what the partnership is about, some clarification of "what it is not" may be needed. This often takes shape in clarifying why the sector initiative is different from what already exists in the region and across systems. Helping partners (or potential partners) understand how your initiative is different from what they do everyday not only helps them market the initiative's activities to their peers, it also helps them understand their role in a more concrete way.

How your Initiative is different from related efforts

A Sector Initiative is different from a local workforce investment board because a sector iniative does not serve the needs of single employers as customers, which LWIBs and one-stop career centers are required to do by federal law (Workforce Investment Act). A sector initiative convenes multiple employers within the same industry, identifies their common needs, and designs a customized solution to those needs. The approach allows a deeper look into an industry’s workforce challenges, which in turn leads to industry-wide solutions. The approach uses state and local resources (including employer financial investments) efficiently and effectively. LWIBs, like other organizations, can often act as effective intermediaries of a sector initiative.

A Sector Initiative is different from a Chamber of Commerce because it is focused on one industry, allowing focused attention to be paid to common barriers to competitiveness across firms within that industry. It also focuses primarily if not exclusively on the workforce development elements of economic competitiveness. Chambers are more likely to focus on business regulatory environments, marketing, and other elements. Chambers, however, like LWIBs, can be excellent conveners of a sector initiative.

A sector initiative is different from an Economic Development Agency because it focuses on a single industry’s workforce development-related challenges. An EDA may address these issues, but is more likely working in the areas of business climate, business retention and recruitment. Cases exist where sector initiatives are used as part of the marketing package to new and expanding companies. Where sector initiatives can show results in increasing the skilled labor pool in a specific industry and region, they become a powerful tool for economic developers to offer as part of a package to support business location or expansion decisions.Just like lwibs and Chambers, although the daily work of an EDA is different from that of a sector initiative, an EDA can also effectively act in the intermediary role.

A sector initiative is different from a Community or Technical College (CTC) or its Workforce Development unit in that it focuses on one industry sector and designs workforce solutions directly related to the industry's needs. Although there are some exceptions around the country, CTC Workforce Development units often are more focused on serving the needs of individual businesses. Additionally, CTC Business Advisory Groups that have been in existence for many years do not meet the true definition of an effective sector partnership because they meet once or twice a year to generally provide feedback on curriculum. Sector partnerships typically exhibit a longer term and higher level of employer engagement than Business Advisory Groups. Sector initiatives often advocate for new or revised CTC courses and credentials that are designed by the partner employers (and therefore highly relevant to local jobs). These courses sometimes “break the mold” of traditional adult learning, as they are offered at non-traditional times, in short “chunked” modules, and in a format that integrates remedial and occupational training. Many community colleges effectively design new or revised curriculum in response to employer needs. This is why community colleges are critical partners in a sector initiative, and sometimes can also be effective intermediaries of sector initiatives.

A sector initiative is different from an Industry Association in that it draws together multiple public “systems” or otherwise “silo-ed” entities (such as education, workforce development and economic development), along with firms within the target industry, to identify barriers to competitiveness and their “root causes,” and to design joint solutions. Industry Associations are also conveners, but in a narrower sense. They convene just employers in their industry, and often address common challenges such as regulation, marketing, or other problems unrelated to a skilled workforce. Industry Association leaders are also very effective in "chairing" or leading the sector partnership group, with the convener or intermediary doing all of the other management functions required.

Marketing Leads to Sustainability

Sector initiatives have choices to make about when, to whom, and to what extent they market their activities. It is valuable to consider that “creating buzz” about the goals of the partnership and its activities can happen at all stages of development. Communicating the vision and the goals with leadership in relevant public systems and with private stakeholders, including their potential roles in the strategy, may serve as a way to build a coalition of early change agents. It may also prevent the tendency to internalize the work by any core group of individuals, yet another factor of the partnership that must be managed effectively by the intermediary. The public may also have a role in testing the validity of the goals of the initiative, and in building momentum for change.

Marketing the success of your initiative should be closely linked with how that success is measured. It is common for a sector initiative to approach marketing and evaluation as intrinsically linked together under the umbrella of long-term sustainability. Evaluating the progress (such as additional leveraged funding) and concrete success (such as a new training program) of your initiative should be strategically utilized to market and message to important stakeholders (such as other employers, legislators, and the public). If this is done successfully, the likelihood of long-term sustainability is increased.

Marketing Tips and Tricks

Your Best Marketing is Word of Mouth

It is no secret that individuals respond best to those they consider to be "like-minded." In sector initiatives, that means that employers listen to employers; educational institutions listen to educational institutions; workforce boards listen to workforce boards; economic developers to economic developers. This is why developing "champions" is so critical to success. Recall our discussion of "employer champions" in Chapter 3: Convening and Planning, and consider that this concept should be applied broadly to all partners.

Make an effort to identify and shape champions from:

  • Employer partners;
  • Education and training systems;
  • Economic development entities;
  • Workforce development organizations; and
  • Jobseekers, workers and members of the community.

Make Marketing Easy for all Members

Knowing that the best messengers for your initiative are members themselves, you will want to make it as easy as possible for them to get the word out. Strategies to encourage members to regularly market the initiative and their participation include:

  • Developing a standardized presentation that can be used by all members at various opportunities.
  • Writing up a short elevator speech that can be put on business cards or pocket cards. This way members will always have the what, who, why, and how on hand.
  • Helping members formulate their own testimonial by interviewing them, writing up their responses, and making the product available. The intermediary should either regularly keep track of quotes and testimonies from members, or should survey members on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. These can be turned into soundbytes and testimonies for brochures, websites, interviews or other marketing mediums.

Use Multiple Media to Get your Message Out

A marketing campaign that communicates the vision and goals of the initiative to the community should be considered in the early- to mid-stages of implementation, not only toward the end when activities are fully underway. Remember, you want to use marketing to build momentum and support along the way. As soon as your initiative can boast success, boast! Some mechanisms for sharing with the community might include:


Chapter 5 Review Questions

  1. To whom do you want to market your initiative? Consider multiple audiences and answer "what's in it for them" for each.
  2. How can you turn your goals statements, list of partners and your current activities into a short, catchy marketing tool?
  3. How can you help employer, education and training, economic development and other partners tell the story of the effort so the each become "champions" of the effort?

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?

7: Metrics and Evaluation

Why does Evaluation Matter?

Know Where You’re Going

Each sector initiative, as early as possible, should select a set of measures relevant to its specific goals and activities. These measures articulate where the initiative is headed and how it will know when it has gotten there. As you design a benchmarking process that captures the continuous improvement of your sector initiative, consider that your measures should: 

  • Be realistic and utilize data that currently exists, so that you minimize the data collection burden on public and private partners.
  • Balance optimal long-term impact measurement against current capacity to collect and produce such measures.
  • Include both quantitative and qualitative indicators.

 A useful framework (but not the only one) for benchmarking is:

Evidence of Progress
Outputs, Products, Outcomes Longer Term Impact

Such as:
  Action Plan
  Employer support

Such as:
  Skills Standards
  Awareness Campaign
Such as:
  Reduced vacancy rates
  Increased rates of

Each of these phases of evaluation can be considered across at least four categories of beneficiaries: employers; jobseekers and workers; public institutions and systems; and the partnership itself. Frameworks similar to this example from Washington State are being piloted by some states and local sector initiatives, each with variation.

Share Your Success

Simply stated, all sector initiatives should work toward being able to tell what happened, to put it into context, to tell the story of that context to multiple audiences, and to make decisions that improve the success of the initiative. Sharing success stories leads to on-going support, interest, and investment. It is the key to long-term sustainability. For example, the ability to provide employers with context and comparisons could lead to industry investment into the partnership and its activities. Some sector initiatives are completely funded by employer member contributions.

Recent History of Sector Evaluation

For the past decade two leading organizations for the evaluation of sector initiatives - The Workforce Strategies Initiative at the Aspen Institute and Public-Private Ventures - have studied dozens, if not hundreds, of sector initiatives across the country. Their reports range from evaluation of specific sector initiatives (such as the garment industry in New York City) or industry-focused strategies in a particular region (such as Central Indiana) to cross-sector studies that evaluate industry-specific approaches to workforce development or demand side outcomes. A number of reports look at worker and employer outcomes across many regional sector initiatives across the country. A recent evaluation of a sample of sector initiatives is Targeting Industries, Training Workers and Improving Opportunities: The Final Report from the Sectoral Employment Initiative (Public-Private Ventures, December 2008). 

In addition to actual evaluations of sector approaches, much recent work is focusing on helping local areas and states to develop frameworks or templates for evaluation that can be standardized to some degree; but also left flexible enough to accommodate the variation in design, approach, and outcomes critical to sector model success. An early attempt at such a framework is: An Evaluation Framework for State Sector Strategies (National Governors Association, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, and National Network of Sector Partners, May 2008).

Here are some other templates that have been used:

  • A simple, one-page flexible model that is completely qualitative;
  • A highly-specific model for partnerships involving worker training; or
  • A broad matrix that incorporates impact on employer, worker, and public institutions, as well as effectiveness of the partnership.
  • A one-page "scorecard" that assesses impact on workers, employers, financial viability, and other indicators of success.

Assessing Impact

For an overview of the role of evaluation in sector partnerships, view this video.

Impact on Employers

Sector initiatives need to know how they are or are not effectively serving their customers, both employers and jobseekers. Measuring the value of a sector initiative to business can be challenging. Value may vary depending on the industry, the size of employers involved (e.g. are they small manufacturers or enormous hospitals?), and the types of challenges they are experiencing. Because of this variation, each sector initiative must carefully define what success for the industry will look like, how to measure it, and how to collect the data. Some long-term employer benefits might include reduced turnover, improved operations, upgraded workforce skills, a higher quality applicant pool, realized cost savings, increased workforce diversity, or creation of new networking opportunities for employers. Most sector initiatives consider both qualitative measures that can be gathered by survey or testimony, and quantitative measures. The Aspen Institute Workforce Strategies Institute offers one template, the Business Value Assessment that some states and local areas are using as a guide for measuring impact on employers. The Center for Energy Workforce Development has published a toolkit to help energy companies measure the impact of their workforce development activities, and much of this content is applicable to companies in other industries as well.

Consider that your evaluation methods can be as simple or complicated as you want them to be, and that sometimes the best way to assess value to participating employers is to ask them directly: Is this working for you? Is this valuable? 

Impact on Workers and Jobseekers

Sector initiatives have proven to have substantial benefits to workers and job seekers. These include increased rates of employment, higher salaries, better benefits, increased hours, increased job satisfaction, improved career advancement prospects, and increased access to education. To realize these types of outcomes, your sector initiative will need to define success for workers and jobseekers early in your efforts, and design a mechanism to track and collect relevant data. 

Role of and Impact on Education and Training Systems

Part of the long-term outcomes of a sector initiative is how education and training systems participate in and are impacted by the activities of the effort. A useful question to ask is: Do educators agree that the partnership is or will help them to meet employers’ and students’ needs better? If so, consider that the partnership has impacted them, and that their role is critical to the initiative's success. Also consider the strength and flexibility of the services provided by the training institutions - including new or updated skills standards, the development of career pathways, new coursework or credentials, changes to student support policies, increased enrollment in industry-relevant curricula, modularization of curricula, increased retention and graduation rates, delivery of training off campus, enhanced e-learning opportunities, etc. 

Effectiveness of the Partnership

Every sector initiative must self-assess its effectiveness as a partnership. This might include: 

  • Evidence of appropriate partners convening, and identifying industry challenges and solutions.
  • Self-identified short and long term outcomes measures.
  • Evidence of a plan of action, or a roadmap with direct line of sight to goals and outcomes.
  • All partners agreeing that the Skill Panel will collectively address a wide range of workforce / talent development challenges in the region.
  • New and leveraged funding (sources and $ amounts).

Systems Change

As previously discussed, systems change factors can be part of the long term change that results from your sector iniatiative. These types of changes occur when public systems (such as workforce systems, education institutions or economic development entities) or industries alter their long-term and on-going behavior as a result of the initiative. Some changes might be: 

  • New, re-structured education, training, social, and business supports
  • Changes in public policy
  • Changes in employer practices

Chapter 7 Review Questions

  1. Do you know where you’re going? How will you know when you’re there?
  2. Do you have impacts envisioned for employers? For workers? For public systems?
  3. How are you measuring evidence of progress toward long term goals or impacts? Do you know the types of products or outcomes that will lead to long term goals or impacts?
  4. Do all partners understand where you’re going and how you’ll know you’re there? How can you share this with them effectively?

8: Maintaining the Partnership

Why is Attention to Maintenance Important?

Setting and Managing On-Going Expectations of Partners

In Chapter 3: Convening and Planning we discuss the building blocks to creating and formalizing your sector partnership. In Chapter 4: Managing the Partnership we discuss coordinating logistics, decisions about staffing, initial funding strategies, organization of information, and the immediate task of maintaining momentum and energy after initial "kick-off." Each of these is important to establishing the expectations by employers and partners of the initiative’s goals and activities. Critical to on-going success is the ability by the intermediary to continue setting and managing expectations of partners while at the same time engaging them to take on specific responsibilities.

  • Maintaining Employer Involvement and Leadership. As the initiative evolves, employer engagement may shift. Some employers may become highly active around specific, targeted actions. Others may want to be involved at a higher, more strategic level. Recall the advantages of engaging CEOs in certain situations or human resource directors in others. Anticipate turnover in staff in member companies, and maintain key point people within each company for day-to-day project updates and management. Your initiative's “employer champions” should also begin to emerge clearly at this stage. Consider using them to market to other firms and lead specific activities. As discussed in further detail later in this module, always respect the time constraints of your employer members - they (particularly small-medium sized companies) have limited time to attend meetings, and generally have little patience for long "process" type meetings often typical of public partners.
  • Working with Education, Training and Economic Development. For all public partners, recognize any institutional constraints that might affect involvement with the initiative, and work around them. As with employer partners, make sure the initiative is represented by a key point person within each institution or organization. Where possible, and as the initiative evolves into clear activities, develop clear written agreements that outline roles, responsibilities, and outcomes that align with the initiative’s goals and their institutional mission statements.
  • Involving Unions and Labor Agencies. If the industry of focus is unionized, your initiative must maintain union or labor agency involvement. To get and keep unions at the table, work closely with union leadership to understand what they hope to gain by being involved and what the barriers to their involvement might be. Find ways to involve workers or garner employee input on certain issues. Agree that as the initiative evolves, certain issues are a good fit for the initiative, and others may be best reserved for the bargaining table.

Keeping Focused While Allowing for Change

Successful initiatives balance a focus on resolving one or two issues at a time with their bigger, longer-term vision of change. It is critical in the initiative’s early phases to scan, understand and discuss the many workforce related issues and needs that are facing the industry, but no initiative can take on every issue all at once. Your initiative should prioritize one or two issues to tackle in the short term.

"It has also been the SOURCE's experience that the partnership should only focus on resolving one issue or need when it first launches, rather than try to take on all issues and needs. As the partnership evolves it becomes more agile in being able to address two-three key issues, but even then they should be prioritized and focused otherwise it leads to chaos and inertia."

Every initiative evolves over time, and should be guided to do so. The evolution of your initiative should be guided by re-visiting goals, strategies and long term impacts regularly. This is where early attention to desired outcomes and impacts will pay off. If partners, especially employers, see that the initiative is integrating new information and appropriate changes in course, while sticking to established priorities, the initiative will be recognized for its responsiveness, flexibility, and focused approach. This means higher rates of employer engagement and partner commitments over time.

Use the "Pick and Stick" Approach

It is the intermediary’s responsibility to facilitate prioritization of key issues as well as remind partners of how those issues directly connect to the greater impact that the initiative wants to achieve. The “Pick and Stick” principle is one way to achieve these complementary goals, and is simply a reminder to “pick” one or two priority issues, and “stick” with them until some resolution is achieved.

Often, a “plan on a page” is a valuable tool to help partners focus on their priorities, the timelines they have set for themselves, and how actions within those priority areas connect to longer-term impacts or the partnership’s overall vision. A “roadmap” that shows what’s been done so far, what is next, and longer term impacts is another mechanism to present similar information. Alternatively, activity reports can describe accomplishments and makes next steps and desired achievements, especially when they include timelines or short-term scopes of work.

Pay Close Attention to Employer Members

It can be easy for an initiative to get lost in its own process. You will know this is happening when employers start dis-engaging. While turnover is natural in an initiative, if your partnership begins to see fall-off of more than a few employer members in a short period of time, consider this a red flag. Re-evaluate whether your activities are directly connected to the partnership’s mission and desired long term outcomes, and check to see that your mission, desired outcomes and actions all have clear and direct value to industry. Some inititiaves have used satisfaction surveys of their members to guide partnership priorities.

Top 3 Reasons for Lack of Industry Participation:

    * Activities or core mission has little Perceived VALUE;
    * Lack of appropriate engagement or use of members’ TIME;
    * The PROCESS or structure of the partnership is perceived as ineffective.

Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Industry Interest

    * Work without a clear strategic plan or set of deliverables/outcomes;
    * Resolve someone else’s problems;
    * Focus on process not outcomes;
    * Focus on what we can learn not what we can solve;
    * Pretend issues and activities are “one size fits all.”

Source: Washington State Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, Anatomy of a Skill Panel Powerpoint presentation


Time Management and Group Dynamics

Respect Everyone's Time

How time is used in your initiative can make or break its overall success. Consider that the more responsible the intermediary is with everyone’s time, not just that of employers, the greater the chance of focused discussions and value-add. Here are some tips to stay on track: 

  • Continue to meet regularly, but always have a clear objective for each meeting (never meet for the sake of meeting). Be cautious with the time offered by all members, but particularly by employers. As the initiative evolves, the partnership may meet in-person less often. This may be in part due to uptake of alternative communication mechanisms, such as blogs, webinars, conference calls, etc.
  • Build a focused agenda so that all participants know what to expect and where they might add input.
  • Always offer the results of the immediate next steps undertaken since the last meeting, as a way to show progress and as a mechanism for making next decisions.
  • Re-visit budgets, timeframes and goals regularly so that partners are on the same page, have aligned expectations, and are grounded in both achievements and any possible missed opportunities.
  • Highlight wins and successes along the way, regardless of the partnership’s maturity. Connect wins and successes to the vision and goals of the partnership.
  • Ensure that everyone leaves meetings with clarity on next steps, including their responsibilities, and a clear idea of how next steps and responsibilities are important to reaching end goals.

Understand Group Dynamics

Helpful to any entity responsible for coordinating and facilitating a diverse group of individuals and interests may be a reminder of the necessary and inevitable stages of group development. These stages have been named and described in many different ways. 

  • Perhaps the best know is Bruce Tuckman's Framework: Forming – Norming – Storming – Performing – Transforming;
  • Another framework that we can all likely relate to is: First date – honeymoon – reality hits – settling in – growing wise together;
  • And another version: Groping – Griping – Grasping – Grouping

While the order of these phases generally portrays the phases or cycle of group development, even high-performing groups may revert back to an earlier stage. This may be in reaction to changing circumstance, such as changes in leadership or membership. 

Respect and Manage Different Styles of Participation

Closely related to an understanding of group dynamics, your initiative may also benefit from the following considerations:

Understanding personalities, communication styles, and problem solving approaches are a skill set that a good intermediary staff person should hone. These skills will help the partnership to avoid making inaccurate assumptions or mis-guided conclusions; as well as help them develop focused problem solving approaches to identifying and meeting their challenges.

Decision making by a group can be hard, but it can be done. Intermediaries are responsible for facilitating decision making by the partners in order to keep the initiative moving forward. The process should start with a challenge or issue, move to divergent ideas about possible solutions, be sifted through a set of assumptions and doubts, and then converge into a group-wide decision. Want to see that in a graphic? Unanimous decisions will not always be possible, but the group should reach consensus whenever possible (consensus = the solution may not be everyone's first choice, but everyone can "buy-in" to the decision). And don't forget that the partnership should be lead and driven by the industry members, so their thoughts in the decision making process need to be weighed very heavily.

Managing Conflict requires some acceptance of conflict as a natural occurrence, understanding why conflict occurs, and offering viable alternatives to overcome diverse beliefs.

Building Staff Capacity

As the initiative develops, skills gaps and staff capacity building needs may emerge more clearly. Consider that in addition to a project manager or coordinator, the staff will need to ensure that knowledge and experience with the focus industry is a priority. To supplement their own industry knowledge, some sector intermediaries hire or contract with an industry expert.

Staffing does not always depend completely on the intermediary. As the partnership evolves, opportunities for joint-staffing should be considered. Cross-partner staffing considerations are a chance to deepen the level of involvement by partner systems or organizations, and may include:

  • A management team that includes lead staff from each partner. These individuals should be people that can pay attention to the day-to-day activities and management of their organization or firm’s involvement in the partnership;
  • A mechanism that allows transparency of roles and responsibilities of lead staff and their performance; and
  • Joint funding across partners for a primary staff coordinator, and for additional staff or contractors as needed.

Chapter 8 Review Questions

  1. Have expectations by partners changed or evolved? How so? Has management of the initiative had to change as a result? How so?
  2. As the initiative evolves or grows, how has staffing changed? How should it change?
  3. Are employers still involved? How?
  4. What indication do you have that the core mission and activities of the effort are of high value to employers? What indication do you have that the processes undertaken to implement the initiative are effective for employers?
  5. Is there a need to change the process by which you implement the effort?
  6. Has the partnership experienced any “storming?” Are there unresolved issues? What are they, and how will you resolve them?

9: Early and Mid-Term Products

Why do Mid-Term Products Matter to End-Goals?

They Build a Line of Sight to Desired Outcomes

Recall in Chapter 7: Metrics and Evaluation, we offered a framework for understanding and measuring progress. Imagine your sector initiative progressing and performing across three phases:

  1. During start-up, you may see evidence of progress by the partnership (such as employer engagement or a memorandum of understanding);
  2. As you begin to implement solutions to the workforce challenges experienced by employers, the initiative will likely develop some products (such as a new curriculum or a set of skills standards); and finally,
  3. Over the longer term, the initiative may begin to realize actual outcomes or impacts (such as lower turnover for employers or career advancement by workers).

Consider that the products developed along the way are part of your strategies toward achieving longer-term outcomes. In other words, there is a set of early and intermediate achievements that are critical stepping stones to reaching the longer term impacts on employers, workers and jobseekers. In Theory of Change language, these intermediate achievements are sometimes called pre-conditions because their existence is a “pre-condition” to a longer term outcome.

The products that your initiative develops as part of the set of solutions to the workforce challenges faced by the target industry should be considered the “pre-conditions” to your initiative’s long-term impacts. This is why it is critical to first identify the root causes to the observed workforce challenges in the industry, then articulate the long-term desired change, and lastly brainstorm and design the set of solutions that will achieve that change.

They Demonstrate Action and Results

Within a year of active engagement and activity, your initiative should be able to show some tangible products that demonstrate forward movement and pro-active steps to solving the workforce challenges of the focus industry. Recall that the value of a sector initiative is that it identifies, designs, and implements a customized solution to the set of challenges facing the industry of focus. Because of this tailored approach, the products will (and should) vary. These products and services should be driven by what is needed to close skills gaps in the industry.

The added value of tangible products and services is their utility as internal and external marketing tools. Because they demonstrate that concrete action has been taken, they can be used to keep current employers and other partnership members engaged. They may even help to recruit new members or attract new funding.

Product Choice and Distribution

Choose Wisely

Many types of products and services can result from your initiative. You may do a skills gap analysis; develop skill standards; conduct asset mapping related to the industry's needs; develop a new training curriculum or new occupational certificates; describe career pathways, crosswalks, and lattices and develop related coursework; create on-the-job mentoring progams; or create industry marketing or career awareness strategies, such as:

These are all good solutions, but be careful to not put the cart before the horse. It is very common to choose a solution to a problem before really understanding the problem. Before creating any products or services, the partnership will need to dig deep into the root causes of the skills gaps experienced by employers in the industry. The partnership then must ask itself:

  • What solutions make the most sense?
  • What product(s) will achieve the greatest impact or leap toward our desired outcomes?
  • What is pre-conditional for our mid-term and long-term impact?
  • If we develop (fill in the blank), is there a clear line of sight to our desired outcomes? 

Distribute and Use Widely

Products and services that can be clearly linked back to the problem experienced by employers and forward to the change desired by employers should be distributed beyond the inner circle of the partnership. Even skills standards and industry analysis reports should be considered marketing tools for your initiative.

Chapter 9 Review Questions

  1. Do the products and services that you are planning or implementing clearly lead to the impacts your effort wants to achieve?
  2. Can you use the products and services to help market your overall efforts?
  3. Have you checked in with your employer partners to make sure your products and services are meeting their needs?
  4. What, if anything, needs to change about your products, services, or outputs?

10: Building Partnership Capacity

Why Does Attention to Capacity Make a Difference?

It Requires Asking: Do we Have the Capacity to Support our Work? 

Capacity building is not always about staff skills and knowledge. It should be viewed broadly to include resource requirements like personnel, technology, finances, communications and marketing, and the ability to provide products and services. The advantage of a partnership approach is that many of these factors can be jointly provided, so that no single entity bears the full burden of supporting an initiative. It is the responsibility of the intermediary, however, to map the evolving needs of the partnership and to match capacity accordingly. There will be times when needs are unmet, in which case the partnership will need to make decisions about how to add to their ability to carry out their work.

It Establishes the Culture for Sharing Across Partners 

It is easy to assume that employers may struggle to come together in a sector partnership because of their natural inclination to compete with each other. This is often overstated. Employers have convened naturally and in every industry for decades. This is why industry associations exist, for example. Employers recognize the benefit of leveraging expertise, creating a unified voice, and in some cases sharing resources. Some employers even recognize the value of promoting competition for the sake of their own and industry-wide innovation. It is also easy to assume the opposite for the public sector: that they somehow do not harbor competition. This is also a myth. Competition across public systems is often understated, and is an unfortunate reality when funding streams are perceived as uneven or insufficient overall.

To counteract both these myths, the intermediary has a responsibility to establish a culture of information and resource sharing within the partnership. Consider that the process of building your partnership will achieve some of the initial comfort with sharing, and that as the initiative evolves, individual public and private partners will begin to realize that their collective power is significantly more effective and synergistic than trying to achieve similar goals as individual institutions, agencies, or companies. Look for "quick wins" to demonstrate the impact of shared knowledge and resources. For example, if any products or tools are developed that are being successfully utilized by some employer members, ask if they can share with others. Help facilitate the process so that tools are shared without violating propietary information.

Institutionalizing Individual Partner Capacity to Participate Ensures Sustainability 

How many times have you witnessed the success of an initiative or project to be largely dependent on one individual's leadership or involvement? It is typical for one person to become and stay involved because they are personally passionate about the vision and activities. Unfortunately, their passion does not necessarily mean they have fully recruited their peers or colleagues into the work, or that others even fully understand the theory behind the work. As a result, all too often when one individual transitions to another job or leaves a project, that project soon falls apart. For sector initiatives, it is common to hear similar testimony: "When I leave this organization/company/college/(fill in the blank), no one will replace me at the table." To avoid having to build the partnership from scratch, the intermediary should help each partner to develop talking points to bring back to their home office. Your initiative should address this just as any organization effectively addresses succession planning.

Additionally, partnerships should consider utilizing a "situational" or "shared" leadership model. This allows several people within the partnership to play leadership roles throughout the life of the partnership. Depending on the focus of the activities, different players can play a leadership role based on their expertise or area of interest. This situational or shared leadership model provides more buy-in by more partners, and lessens the effect of losing the one individual who had been seen as the sole leader or champion. The development of several "business champions" can also help in lessening the negative impacts of these transitions when leaders leave the partnership.

Staffing and Positioning the Intermediary

Staffing Decisions

Recall that in Chapter 3: Convening and Planning, the role of the intermediary is defined, including their responsibilities to engage employers and other key stakeholders, to coordinate information and resources, and to facilitate the development of effective and appropriate responses to the workforce-related challenges of the industry of focus. In Chapter 8: Maintaining the Partnership, the need to expand staff expertise and capacity is considered, particularly as the partnership expands in size and in scope of influence and activity. This might mean contracting to an industry expert, sharing coordination responsibilities across partners, or developing a cross-partner management team. As the initiative matures further, and as products and services begin to take shape, your initiative may need to add other expertise. Do you have a marketing expert? Do you have needed technological expertise? The expertise may need to come from outside the partnership, but check with partners first. These areas of expertise may already exist within a public or private partner organization or firm.

Becoming the "Go-to Guy"

It is not unusual that the intermediary organization becomes the resident expert for knowledge, information, resources and opportunities related to the needs of the focus industry and for jobseekers and workers in the region. The intermediary does more than just convene partners; they also convene information and resources. Consider that as the initiative evolves, the intermediary will need to build industry and process knowledge; take advantage of labor market information; and be the broker or facilitator for the needs of the industry which may or may not include the workforce system.

In some cases, the intermediary may become the expert that other regions and entities look to for industry-focused solutions to workforce problems. Developing ways to share information, products and tools specific to your industry of focus will market your initiative to a wider audience and will increase the overall impact the partnership has on the industry.

Mechanisms for Shared Learning

Many tools and mechanisms exist to help your partnership maximize its ability to share information and move forward together. These range from the tried-and-true strategies (face-to-face time over a cup of coffee) to the high-tech (blogs and wikis). Just as you were careful to choose the types of products and services created by your partnership, you will want to choose your shared learning tools carefully. Here are some rules of thumb:

  • If you need a place to put information in a clean, marketable, organized and controlled way, develop a simple website
  • If you need your partners to make changes to documents, add their ideas with some freedom, but still in a somewhat organized fashion, try a wiki or related on-line tool
  • If your partners want to be given the critical information without having to work for it, use the traditional e-newsletter or mailing list (Google and Yahoo both offer free mailing list services.)

The employers in your partnership are your industry experts, but sometimes there is value to bringing in additional perspectives. Holding an industry meeting that targets existing and potentially new public and private members can be a way to gain a more solid understanding of the industry's needs, to find fresh ideas, and to inject some energy into the partnership. Bring in outside industry experts, but choose them wisely so as to not overwhelm. Bring in other experts too. For example, your initiative may benefit from learning about the services and knowledge of non-profits in your community. Build an agenda that includes them.

Finally, did you know there's a national association for sector partnerships like yours? The National Network of Sector Partnerships can provide valuable networking and learning opportunities with other sector initiatives around the country.

Chapter 10 Review Questions

  1. Are you able to carry out the scope of work needed to meet the goals of the partnership with what you have now in terms of staff and finances? If not, in what areas are you falling short?
  2. Do you have sufficient technology and communications capacity to effectively share material, decisions and needs across partners?
  3. How are public and private partners contributing to the effort overall?
  4. What areas of expertise are missing from the “table’?
  5. What if key partners left the “table”? Have you considered the implications and your response as a partnership?

11: Learning from the Work

Why Capture Lessons Learned?

Continuous Improvement Doesn't Just Happen

Your partnership should by now have established a set of short-, medium- and long-term goals as part of your metrics and evaluation strategy, but keeping track of lessons learned along the way will make sure you actually get to those goals. Good sector partnerships build in necessary time and tools to reflect and re-assess so their sector-based solutions are improved regularly. In essence, if mid-term corrections are needed, a partnership must be deliberate about recognizing changing conditions or the lack of success of a certain tactic, and then change course as needed. To do this effectively:

  • Establish a simple, practical system for keeping track of progress.
  • Ask for feedback from public and private sector members.
  • Incorporate feedback by revising how the partnership operates and/or what tactics are deployed.
  • Capture what is working and how you know its working -- these anecdotes can turn into powerful stories that will help strengthen your initiative.

Lessons Learned Help You Tell Your Story

Capturing lessons learned over the short and long-term help any organization or initiative to tell their story. Why is telling your story important? Because telling the story of why your initiative exists, where it's been, and where it's going is key to its growth and success. It is the groundwork for effective marketing, and remember that you and your partners want to be messaging to multiple audiences on a continual basis, including funders, new members, so-far disengaged systems or employers, and the community. To tell the story of your initiative:

  • Understand how your actions are firmly grounded in your strategic priorities.
  • Test storylines with your members -- is this our unified story about why we exist, what we do and where we're going?
  • Consider that the combined exercise of tracking lessons learned and formulating your story will empower the partnership to pro-actively move toward your tangible goals.

Things to Consider

Check in with Employer Members

Because employer members are the primary customer and source of input for your initiative, your initiative should regularly check to see if their needs are being met. This can happen in straightforward ways by asking: Are we still on track? Are we still talking about and addressing your needs? How have your needs changed? What is still the most persistent challenge for your industry? What is working about this initiative for you? What is not? Remember also that the advantage of the sector approach is that you can gauge the common needs and interests across firms in the industry because multiple employers are involved and giving their input. This should help the intermediary to know which pieces of feedback are the most valid or most urgent, and not just an outlying complaint, compliment or suggestion for changed direction.

Feedback can also come in more indirect ways. If the initiative does a good job at tracking engagement by and contributions from public and private members, it should be easy to determine if services or activities are meeting their needs. For example, if training for workers is a service of the initiative, a spreadsheet that tracks worker participation and pooled resources by employer members to support a worker training program can show over time how important that training is to employers.

Stay Hungry for Outcomes

Recall in Chapter 7: Metrics and Evaluation, we suggest three phases of evaluating your initiative's progress: 1) Evidence of progress; 2) Products and Services; and 3) Outcomes or impacts. Recall in Chapter 9: Early and Mid-term Products, we discuss how the early- and mid-term products, services and activities of your initiative should lead to the longer-term outcomes your public and private members agree is the change they want to see. In other words, mid-term products and services are the "pre-conditions" to longer-term outcomes. It is easy to misinterpret an initiative's product, service or activity (for example, a new training program) as an outcome. In fact, the outcome is what we see as a result of the new training program (for example, the number of program completers and/or number of skilled new hires). When tracking lessons learned, it will be important to regularly check to see if your initiative's products and services are in fact leading to the outcomes needed and named by the industry. This takes time and a good tracking system. Beware of complacency; don’t stop at products; push to outcomes.

Use Lessons Learned to Message and Market

Articulating lessons learned about what's working and what's not can often be turned into marketing tools. Short case studies about activities and scope of influence; synopses of what's been working over the lifetime of the initiative; and even references to what's been the most challenging can be effective ways to illustrate the value of the partnership.

Chapter 11 Review Questions

  1. How are you keeping track of what’s working and what’s not about the partnership and its activities?
  2. Can public and private partners “tell the story” of their efforts related to this partnership and its activities? How do you know?
  3. When did you last check in with employers (i.e. Are we still on track? How have your needs changed? What are the most persistent challenges your industry is dealing with? What is working and not working about this initiative?)
  4. How do you know that you’re pushing toward outcomes? Or are you satisfied with products and services?

12: Inventory of Tools

Tools By Chapter

The inventory of tools displays a list of all pages on the site and the tools that are referenced within those pages.

4: Managing the Partnership

5: Marketing and Communication

6: Sustainability


Tools By Type


case study

communication and promotion

engaging employers


funding sources

industry: biotech

industry: construction

industry: energy

industry: finance

industry: healthcare

industry: hospitality

industry: logistics

industry: manufacturing

industry: service

industry: transportation

industry: water

initiative management

initiative products

meeting management

performance measurement


strategic planning


understanding group dynamics

using data

Tools Alphabetically

Tools By Chapter

The inventory of tools displays a list of all pages on the site and the tools that are referenced within those pages.

4: Managing the Partnership

5: Marketing and Communication

6: Sustainability


Tools By Type


case study

communication and promotion

engaging employers


funding sources

industry: biotech

industry: construction

industry: energy

industry: finance

industry: healthcare

industry: hospitality

industry: logistics

industry: manufacturing

industry: service

industry: transportation

industry: water

initiative management

initiative products

meeting management

performance measurement


strategic planning


understanding group dynamics

using data

Tools Alphabetically