How Would You Answer the Hard Questions About Workforce Development?

By Larry Robbin, Executive Director of Robbin and Associates

Business Solutions, ConsultingPeople in the workforce development field rightly deserve to feel proud and positive about the impact of our work. At the same time, we should be doing some deep soul searching about what we can do to make our work more effective. There are some hard and challenging questions we should be asking ourselves. If we can address the issues raised by these questions, it will make the workforce development field and our organizations even more effective.

1) What do your program participants think of your services? Just because you helped people get jobs does not mean they think you do fantastic work. They could think the services were just ok or even poor, but they used them anyway to get a job. They may have liked some aspects of your services and disliked others. We should not confuse helping people get jobs with delivering an outstanding customer service experience to them. I have found that less than five percent of workforce organizations do any meaningful gathering of the opinions of program participants. This would include a variety of surveys at different points in the program process, holding focus groups and conducting participant interviews that are done by other program participants or a third party. Why aren’t we listening to the voices of the people we serve and using their insights to improve what we do? We talk about being employer driven, but what about also being driven by the feedback of our program participants.

2) Do we know who drops out of our programs, when they leave and why they go? Why do people from some demographic groups leave more often than other types of individuals? It could be their issues, but it could also be problems in our program design, customer service, cultural competency, diversity awareness and other issues. If we do not make a concerted effort to find out why they leave, we cannot improve our work and we will inadvertently continue to serve some people better than others. Are we putting any time into follow up with people who drop out of our services? Are we asking the other organizations that serve them what they hear about why people do not like what we offer? We need to study the dissatisfied participant in order to reduce their numbers and serve people more effectively.

3) Are you measuring business satisfaction with your services? Every workforce development funding source measures job seeker outcomes, but these have little to do with business customer satisfaction. Are you tracking repeat hiring, business to business referrals and whether or not you can get customer satisfaction quotes from all your business customers? How many businesses have made you their first or sole source for some type of employees? What other measures are you using to find out what businesses think of your organization and work? The false assumption is that if businesses hire someone and retain them, then they are satisfied with our services. This simple observation does not reveal the true depth of what a business thinks about what we offer. To see an article about ten ways to measure business customer satisfaction click here.

4) Are your employees engaged in their jobs? How do they feel about working in your organization? Is burn out a problem? Very few workforce organizations use any mechanism to measure staff engagement. According to the Gallup poll on employee engagement, over seventy percent of people in the private sector workforce are not engaged with their jobs! We may or may not have better numbers, but the point is we do not know what our employees really think about their jobs and workplaces. Are you conducting any meaningful anonymous employee surveys or using other means to evaluate the job satisfaction of your personnel? Is your organization doing anything to improve it? For more information on this subject click here to see the article, Which One of Your Favorite Employees is About to Quit?


5) Why do so few of our business board members hire people from our organizations? It is interesting to see business people who are board members advocating to other businesses that they should use the services of the workforce system, when in many cases these very board members are not using the services for their own businesses! I know there may be good reasons for this phenomenon. However, are we talking about them enough to know that the reasons are valid? Are we avoiding this subject? Is this topic the elephant in your workforce organization living room?

6) What are your personal career and professional development skill building plans? It is ironic that we advocate for career plans for our program participants every day, yet few workforce professionals have plans of their own! What is your workforce organization doing to improve staff skills? Now would be the time for organizations to form Regional Staff Capacity Building Collaborations. Training could be bartered among organizations using existing personnel and money could be cooperatively invested in bringing in training or doing it online. Everyone in workforce development needs a career plan and access to training on a regular basis to improve their skills. Is your organization developing the skills of it’s own workforce? Click here to see an article about developing your career plan.

These are just some of the hard questions we should be asking about our field in order to improve our work. Do you have some hard questions for the workforce development field that should be in the next edition of this list? Please send them to