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Good Jobs Challenge Directly Links Workforce Development and Economic Development

Todd Fisher, American Rescue Plan Program Director

Workforce development is core to EDA’s mission of driving place-based economic development that results in thriving regions with growing, globally competitive industries. Without a skilled, engaged, and inclusive local talent pool, industries cannot grow, businesses will not invest, and local economies will not flourish.

Creating a virtuous local economic development circle requires building intentional partnerships with strategic industries and key employers around their actual demand for talent and skills. It also requires a simultaneous focus on training, upskilling, and supporting local talent consistent with that demand, ultimately binding these efforts together in transparent pathways to quality jobs.

EDA’s $500 million Good Jobs Challenge (GJC), funded through the American Rescue Plan, is supporting regions across the country in their efforts to link workforce development and economic development. On August 3, EDA announced the 32 awardees of the Good Jobs Challenge. By partnering with employers, labor unions, community colleges, and other stakeholders, these projects will solve for local talent needs, increase the supply of trained workers, and help workers secure jobs in 15 key industries that are essential to U.S. supply chains, global competitiveness, and regional development.

The GJC shifted the workforce field to be more industry aligned, demand driven, employer-led and worker centric. The GJC links these four key design principals with a structure that incentivizes deep, cross-sector collaboration, breaking down silos and focusing on connecting diverse local stakeholders into one integrated, holistic talent ecosystem.

Industry Aligned: The GJC started with the local context, regional strategy and identification of the specific industries critical to that region. Coalitions then organized around key sectoral partnerships to develop talent pipelines for those industries. By making these sectoral partnerships explicit, the GJC put economic development and regional/industry alignment at its core.

Demand Driven: The GJC emphasized grounding the whole workforce system in actual demand for talent from employers (including specific job types, quality, and wages) in those sectoral partnerships. GJC regional partners then developed a plan to meet that demand through targeted outreach to talent, training for the specific skills required, and building talent pipelines and clear on-ramps to those in-demand jobs.

Employer-Led: At the core of the GJC is bringing employers to the table as deeply engaged partners and leaders. Too often, employers are an outside stakeholder that a workforce system needs to engage. Employers sometimes view the workforce system in a transactional way – “I need workers now at the lowest possible cost.” The GJC tries to break this dynamic. By focusing on employer leadership and requiring specific, measurable commitments (especially hiring commitments, work-based learning, curriculum development, and employee time), the GJC is bridging the public/private divide, changing employer mindsets from transactional to partnership, and incenting employers to truly have “skin in the game.”

Worker Centric: While the GJC has a large focus on engaging industry and employers, it also places equal weight on the worker. The GJC prioritizes equity and engaging the most underrepresented communities and populations. In addition, the GJC specifically recognizes the barriers many individuals face in accessing training and jobs, including transportation, childcare and technology needs. The program required specificity on how to remove these barriers and provided funding to do so. Also of importance and a critical evaluation criterion was making sure the ultimate jobs are “good jobs,” with good and increasing wages, benefits, and opportunities for advancement (including a specific focus on union jobs).

The GJC focused on the ultimate outcome – direct placements into high-quality jobs with enhanced wages that enable all members of a community to achieve their potential and be on a path to a middle-class life and career. The response to this approach was overwhelming -- 509 applicants from all states and territories applied with requests for almost 13 times the $500 million allocated to the program. The pool included many first-time EDA applicants that used the opportunity to organize their region around strategic local industries, thousands of employer commitment letters, and multiple diverse stakeholders coming together as organized coalitions for the first time – all explicitly tying workforce development to regional economic growth and competitiveness.

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