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Jan 23 -- The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL's) Employment and Training Administration (ETA) requests information on current and planned local and regional sector strategies and partnership models. This request for information (RFI) seeks input from all stakeholders involved directly and indirectly in economic and workforce development, particularly as it relates to the development of sector strategy models that address the workforce needs of specific industry sectors within a local or regional labor market through a strategic sector partnership. This stakeholder input will inform the Department's efforts in developing sustainable and scalable sector strategies through economic development and workforce collaboration to meet local and regional sector needs for skilled workers in quality jobs while meeting broader Administration objectives, such as equity and the inclusion of historically marginalized populations within those sectors, and responsiveness to the needs of businesses and the economy in critical industries during and beyond the pandemic. Responses may be submitted on a rolling basis but are due no later than 5 p.m. (ET) on March 24, 2023.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 (WIOA) emphasizes the important role of sector strategies in a dynamic regional workforce development plan. Within WIOA, regional coordination and planning requirements include the necessity of a regional plan that supports the “development and implementation of sector initiatives for in-demand industry sectors or occupations in the regions.” Sector strategies are useful models of local and regional workforce development that are well-positioned to align the collective needs of employers in an in-demand industry with the skilled workforce needed, while ensuring a successful career pathway from training to employment and career progression. There is evidence of the effectiveness of a sector approach but the transition from paper to practice can be challenging. Real-world collaboration can be hard to sustain without dedicated support and focused commitment. Scaling of effective strategies can also be challenging as the context, partnerships, and workforce challenges within specific sectors may involve factors and considerations that vary from those in a local or regional economic development area.

ETA developed a sector strategy framework in 2016, which has been used to inform many of our more recent investments. https://businessengagement.workforcegps.org/resources/2016/04/12/13/53/Sector-Strategies-Implementation-Framework This framework defines a sector strategy as a partnership of multiple employers within a critical industry that brings together education, economic development, workforce systems, and community organizations to identify and collaboratively meet the workforce needs of that industry within a regional labor market. Sector strategies are a key element of a Career Pathways System, which develops education and training in collaboration with employers to ensure the end product supports the skills and competencies needed by industry. As a systems change approach, there are recognized components of an effective sector strategy. ETA's Sector Strategy Implementation Framework, drawing from emerging research and practices, advanced “five key capabilities” of successful sector-focused organizations that state and regional workforce partnerships should master in implementing a sector approach. They include:

-- Data-Informed Decision Making—the organization/partnership uses rigorous data to make decisions about target industries and education and training investments.
-- Industry Engagement—there is meaningful and continuous involvement of targeted industry sector employers in designing and delivering programs and services.
-- Sector-Based Service Delivery—all partners are effectively facilitating the delivery of workforce solutions to be responsive to the needs of workers and the targeted industry sector(s).
-- Sustainability and Continuous Improvement—the organization/partnership is able to measure sector strategy outcomes and has an effective and realistic plan to financially sustain sector work over time.
-- Organizational Capacity and Alignment—the organization/partnership has the personnel, policies, vision, and resources in place to continually support sector strategy outcomes.

The Department has funded several recent sector strategy initiatives through H-1B-funded grant programs, and evaluations from these projects will support key learnings to support future investments, such as the SECTOR initiative proposed in WIOA reauthorization and the FY 23 President's Budget. The SECTOR proposal encompasses the key capabilities of sector strategies described above but also targets equity by centering services on the most underserved populations and communities while focusing on high-skill, high-wage, and/or in-demand industry sectors or occupations that lead to an economy of good jobs. Additionally, this RFI will provide crucial information on how local and regional areas are considering sector strategies as a response to key workforce needs, particularly in the most critical industries of priority and opportunity—such as those being built out through recent federal investments, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 (CHIPS).

This RFI seeks to grow ETA and partner agencies' understanding of effective sector strategies through the experiences of key stakeholders in local and regional economies to further inform policymakers and workforce practitioners at the federal, state, and local levels. Such information will refine policy responses, technical assistance for adoption and scaling of sector strategies as a response to economic and workforce development needs, and inform the design of future grants. Specifically, understanding what the challenges are to implementing sector strategies, what has resulted in successful sector approaches, who the key partners need to be and what their roles should be, the current level of regional coordination and planning that has been undertaken to support sector partnerships, how the partnerships are funded, and how the success of such partnerships can be measured will benefit the federal government's efforts to effectively engage with local and regional workforce areas to create an impactful response to the current and future training needs in critical industries, such as advanced manufacturing (including semiconductor manufacturing), information technology and cybersecurity, transportation infrastructure modernization, healthcare, and clean energy and energy resilience.

Further, in alignment with the Administration's priority on supporting increased job quality, including through the active inclusion of worker voice, this RFI seeks also to learn about sector strategies that specifically focus on and incorporate equity and worker voice into the training design, supportive service delivery, workforce decision making processes, and ongoing professional development and career growth opportunities. One equity and worker-centered sector strategy example showing promise is the “High Road Training Partnership” (HRTP) sector strategy model from California. Such models align with the Biden-Harris Administration priority on good quality jobs, which can be considered those that provide livable wages of at least $15 an hour, employment benefits, work environments free of discrimination, and opportunities for advancement, as well as supporting worker voice and engagement. For example, the worker-centered sector strategies of HRTP do this by being equity-centered, worker-focused and industry-led, allowing for innovative workforce solutions that create and support job quality using four essential elements: (1) industry-led problem solving; (2) partnership as a priority; (3) worker voice; and (4) strategic training solutions.

Other impactful sector strategy models developed by and with industry and workforce development intermediaries that also focus on job quality through family-sustaining wages and equitable inclusion of a diverse workforce include San Antonio's Project QUEST, and the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership's Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program (BIG STEP). An additional example of industry-supported and validated sector-based training that is a key component of a sector strategy is the Per Scholas model for IT training. However, these are just a few of the promising models and training strategies developed and implemented across the nation.

ETA is interested in learning more about equity and worker-centered sector strategies such as HRTP, and additional models, to gather feedback on questions such as: Does this approach work across all industry sectors? What workforce strategies have emerged from these efforts—career pathway development, apprenticeships—that have been supported by employer partners? How are these strategies funded and sustained? Do the strategies impact different groups of workers differently? Are any strategies particularly suited to developing the skills and opportunities for historically marginalized communities?

ETA invites workforce and economic development practitioners, education and training institutions, state and local policy makers, industry and professional associations, labor organizations, and funders and researchers to provide information.
 
This RFI is an initial step in improving DOL's understanding of goals, interests, concerns, challenges, best practices and promising practices, and policy, program, and resource needs of local and regional economic development areas, with respect to sector strategies. This RFI is a general solicitation for public input, which sets forth topics for discussion and comment.  
 
1: Definitions [3 questions]
2: Partnership Roles and Requirements [11]
3: Promising Practices for Employer Engagement and Workforce Development [15]
4: Promising Practices for Worker-Centered Sector Strategies [5]
5: Resources [5]
6: Federal Support for Sector Strategies [3]
7: Advancing Equity [5]
8: Measuring Success [6]
9: Local Needs Assessments and Capacity [2]
10: Evidence Use [3]
11: Sustainability and Scalability [3]
12: Necessary and Beneficial Technical Assistance Support [2]
  
https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-01142

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