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.