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Energizing professional development in the workforce field through communities of practice

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The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) has brought profound changes to the Workforce Development (WD) field. More than ever, front-line employees and leaders can benefit from purposeful, structured Professional Development.

WD maintains responsibility for identifying and sustaining a ready workforce to meet a wide range of needs brought by employers and potential employees within a given community. Progressive changes in the scope of WD have altered the scope and level of demand from responsiveness to transformative. WD staff who once guided the placement of job candidates, now assume a leadership role, initiating strategic partnerships that drive the growth and development of business and community working together to achieve economic health and a flexible and prepared workforce.

Within this environment, Arizona’s WD professionals have noted that recent opportunities for peer practitioners to compare notes about key issues in the field have been, at best, limited to hallway conversations at conferences or meetings. Such accidental discussions have served as only partial responses to the need to confer and improve approaches associated with Rapid Response and Dislocated Worker Programs as lay-off aversion mechanisms, and other WD challenges.

Not only must WD professionals operate One-Stop Career Centers (One-Stops) in a seamless and customer-sensitive manner, they are required to do all of the following:

One-Stops are required by law to maintain consistent services according to explicit “branding” associated with the Workforce Investment Act. Despite this, smaller cities and towns often face the greatest need, while having the lowest levels of monetary and other forms of support. Areas with low population numbers typically have difficulty marshalling the financial support to address ongoing challenges. Professionals in the field continue to grapple with ways to boost performance and facilitate greater return on investment among diverse communities in Arizona.

The Solution

In response to the realization that branding One-Stop services required mutual understanding of WD professionals statewide, a grass roots initiative emerged in the form of Workforce Info-Share Activity. This systematic and structured method provides preliminary training in conducting onsite One-Stop visitation, a prerequisite to conducting site visits by professionals who must also meet specifications to qualify. Following successful completion of the training session, during which site visitors are instructed in ways to conduct the visit, notably, how to utilize the customized instrument developed for this purpose.

During a specified time period, usually approximately six to eight weeks in length, site visitors schedule and conduct their visits, in teams of two or three. Approximately two months after the one-day training, a follow-up session is attended by all visiting professionals and representatives of sites hosting visits. These include rural, tribal, and metropolitan area front-line staff.

"The primary of purpose of site visitation initiative is to strengthen performance capability at each One-Stop Career centre."

Throughout the preparation, visitation, and follow-up conference, major emphasis is placed on the discovery and replication of best and promising practices in the field, notably those that enhance the customer experience of using One-Stops for career development. Rather than emphasizing compliance, the site visits focus on what it feels like to be a customer using One-Stop services.

The primary of purpose of site visitation initiative is to strengthen performance capability at each One-Stop Career centre. Offering an external view of a One-Stop Career centre potentially provides each location a new perspective of operations from the viewpoint of a knowledgeable consumer. Specific professional input provides a response to each centre’s service to employers, service to job-seekers, and centre management and organization.

Since the inception of the initiative 24 months ago, practices in a wide range of Workforce Development practices shown to be effective, have been adjusted to fit a variety of communities. What has been most encouraging to executives in WD is the level of enthusiasm of seasoned staff seeking to implement ideas they have seen working, even in differently sized communities from their own.

Elements found to be critical to the success of the initiative in Arizona are as follows:

  1. make sure to establish a clear and strong personal relationship with the specific agencies with whom you have a working partnership for mutual peer professional development;
  2. establish a specific structure for the process, such as an instrument that guides the process;
  3. encourage line staff to be ambassadors for the programme;
  4. require and provide a preliminary training session;
  5. recognize the power and value of the site visits themselves as having great potential for learning;
  6. conduct a general session for all participants at the conclusion of the visits and provide a structured, facilitated feedback session.

The Value

The consensus among participants of the emerging communities of practice in Arizona has been favourable. What do participants like about the process? For many, the seemingly infinite variations on familiar themes has been eye-opening. People who work in rural locations suddenly see the same general principle being put into practice in an entirely different way in a large city, and vice-versa. Peers grow increasingly comfortable about picking up the phone and calling someone in a distant location, just to talk about what works and what might work even better. The initiative has established a method of building upon a grass roots approach to professional development. To date, the enthusiasm that has characterized the implementation of the process, attests to the validity of the need for sharing both challenges and successes in serving employers and job-seeking clients.

Richard Graves of Maricopa County spoke about the process in this way: “The experience provides the opportunity for networking with professionals who have similar background and interests in the employment and training industry. . . The most rewarding aspect of the process is seeing how other local areas have set up the One-Stop concept and how it is working to benefit job seekers and employers.”


Authors:

Sheila E. Murphy, Sheila Murphy Associates, Phoenix, Arizona USA.
Susan Schmidt, Maricopa Workforce Connections, Phoenix, Arizona USA.
John Morales, Yuma Private Industry Council, Yuma, Arizona USA.


Printed from: http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/learning/management_skills/energizing.htm on Friday December 15th, 2017
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited