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.