Missouri Technologist Talk

How Missouri’s Workforce Board Helps People Gain Digital Skills for Tech Jobs & More

By R.C. Dirkes

How does a workforce board help hundreds of thousands of people find jobs in the wake of a pandemic?

One way Missouri’s Office of Workforce Development is addressing this objective is by providing on-demand virtual IT training, designed and delivered by CompTIA Tech.

In a recent episode of CompTIA’s award-winning Technologist Tales podcast, produced for Creating IT Futures, Dr. Mardy Leathers, director of Missouri’s Office of Workforce Development, explains custom tech training from CompTIA helps Missourians develop digital job and life skills.

During their podcast conversation, Leathers tells Technologist Talk host R.C. “Bob” Dirkes about his team’s mission and their relationship with CompTIA’s training group.

Here's an edited transcript:

Mardy Leathers: The approach to workforce development has to mobilize to meet the dynamic needs of the labor market.

And that doesn't just mean preparing people for a job, but it's really for a lifetime of careers and opportunities… understanding that our touchpoints are going to be throughout the lifelong journey of the worker. Because individuals are going to need to access our resources to continue to skill up. And I think that's the change because before, it was all about preparing people for a job and then “good luck.”

Now, we're in this relationship that's more long-term. …We're saying, "You know what, we're going to be together in the long haul because we're going to help you stay employed. We're going to help you stay resilient. We're going to help you stay skilled up."

The idea here is to align the resources with opportunity. And that may mean through formal education, through formal, informal training, or may mean just alignment with employment opportunities straight to the job.

What I'm focused on is how do we increase and broaden the economic prosperity specifically of all Missourians? How do we leave it a little bit better than we found it? How do we make Missouri a place that is more comfortable for people to live, that gives a lot of people an opportunity for upward mobility, to build a sense of self-sustainability, and a sense of dignity?

That may mean finding suitable employment, that may mean getting a new credential or certification, it may mean a degree path. But in all instances, what we want to do is create an environment in which Missourians can succeed, Missourians can flourish, and Missourians can achieve the level of prosperity that they feel they deserve.

Bob Dirkes: Do you feel the “tech skills gap” in Missouri?

Mardy: We absolutely do.

If you can look at it, you can say, "Okay, 67% of all the jobs available today in Missouri require some sort of digital skillset." If you go out and you look at Burning Glass, or some other [job posting] platform, you see the word “Microsoft” or “Microsoft Excel” and “Microsoft Word” in probably 80% of the job openings that are out there. It's a skillset that's required.

We understand that our jobs are becoming more digitized, which means we need a new level or new type of skill set. I think in Missouri, what that means, though, is not just saying, "Okay. Employers have a need. Our job is to respond to it," but tie it back to again to how are we helping Missourians grow?

Our lifestyles are now digitized. And so, what we see is an opportunity to increase the quality of life of all Missourians by helping them get the skills, not just to be successful at work, but to be successful as socially-mobile citizens in the state. …It's a literacy conversation. It's no different to us than understanding arithmetic, reading, writing. You now have to have a digital skillset to be able to really function in today's society, both in the workplace and outside.

Bob: Within that mission, what are your three highest priorities?

Mardy: One being, what barriers are preventing people from achieving self-actualization goals?

If you think about the simple Maslow hierarchy, we understand that there are base-level needs. In many cases, we have individuals who may be homeless, and maybe youth who are justice-involved, or adults who are justice-involved. They may have some sort of real barrier that's disallowing them from moving to the next stage in life…  towards actualizing their goals.

And so, …to get people to that self-actualization of broadened economic prosperity is help individuals overcome those barriers. Wherever those barriers are, we're trying to identify those upfront. Whether it's a skills gap barrier. Whether it's things like childcare, access to transportation. It's overcoming maybe generational poverty. Whatever might keep individuals from moving to that next level. …We want to focus on removing the barriers with the goal of really helping all Missourians who want to go to work to be able to go to work and not have anything that's in their way.

The second thing… We want to keep [people] working in Missouri. How do we make our workforce more productive in Missouri, more what I call resilient, in Missouri? What that means is – with acceleration of technology, and the jobs, roles and tasks changing so rapidly – we need to make sure that individuals have the skill set and have access to gaining the new skills that are needed to compete and succeed in today's marketplace.

That means reinvesting in our workers, our incumbent workers, the people who maybe [earned] that degree or that certification, a number of years ago. They're quite successful, but they can't grow. They can't move on to what's next. Or maybe now they're going to be vulnerable when the next wave of technological innovation occurs. And so, we need to be investing to create a more productive workforce and one that's more dynamic and one that can be more flexible… to achieve that goal of resilience.

…The third thing is just an understanding of performance. That means looking at what percentage of people who go through our workforce programs that are getting a job. How many are getting a credential? What are their median earnings? All that matters.

But on the other side, what is the overall economy doing in Missouri, and what levers are we pulling through the workforce development programs? What performance metrics are better in Missouri? Are people able to move around the state freely? Or is our rural population locked into the rural areas? And they don't have opportunities for certain jobs because they don't have access to broadband, or they don't have the transportation to get across town?

We're trying to understand what [is success]? And then, how do we measure that performance? …To make sure that we're coming back to do our first two goals… to help more people into the workforce in Missouri, and to help them be more productive and stay in the workforce in Missouri.

[To recap] …How do we remove barriers that are keeping people from accessing opportunity? Whether it's employment or training, credentialing and education? What are we doing to help keep people in the workforce be more productive, achieve that resilience factor that I described? And really the third thing is how are we measuring our performance? How do we know if we're winning?

 

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