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Entrepreneurship: The Key to Sustained Workforce Development

In the era of post pandemic economic recovery, reskilling, upskilling and developing the American workforce to cultivate job creation and economic growth is perhaps never more critical to the long-term sustainability of economic recovery in the nation.

While the concept of workforce development as an investment priority in the human capital of our country as a cornerstone of economic development is not new, many current workforce development systems and programs continue to be focused on relative short-term pathways to jobs vs. focusing on enabling the citizens being served to not only obtain a job, but create wealth for themselves and their families.

So what is the difference between job creation and wealth creation and why does it matter?

Job creation efforts such as apprenticeship programs have their roots in medieval guilds and structures. The concept is simple, allow a person to train in a specific vocation as an apprentice. Eventually that person will gain skills, experience and ultimately replace the “master” tradesman. While conceptually this model works, it is not enough when looking at reskilling and upskilling entire swaths of the country’s population away from traditional manufacturing-based jobs into the knowledge-based economy.

Many workforce development programs today are tied to fulfilling short term gaps in local economies. Many programs allow for rapid “certification” in areas such as hospice care, truck driving, installers, line workers and other typically trade based jobs. While these programs do a great job at allowing an individual to get a “job,” they often do little to prepare individuals to advance themselves beyond that already established pathway particular to that industry or trade.

Furthermore, as the US economy continues to evolve into more knowledge-based areas demanding differing skill sets, there is a multipronged issue facing the US economy. The demand for relatively low skilled jobs is dropping, being replaced by automation, outsourcing and technology. Those trained in these jobs through traditional programming are facing a reduction in job demand in the next 20 years which hampers potential job and wage growth, preventing career progression and growth, and thereby thwarting wealth creation that would break the poverty cycle.

Conversely, employers in higher technology sectors are competing fiercely for candidates for knowledge-based positions, constantly citing a lack of skilled workforce as a barrier to competition and growth in the US economy. This drives up wages for a select few, but does little to address equitable growth and wealth creation across the economy and perpetuates the cycle of disparity prevalent across the US.

Enter entrepreneurship as a solution.

While the concept of starting a business in the US is generally regarded with respect and a viable individual choice, it is not yet officially recognized as a “trade” in the US. Why is this an issue? Consider the following: Traditional job placement and creation programs can cost in the realm of a few hundred dollars to several thousand per participant depending on duration of training. The end result of that training may result in the creation of one living wage job which is laudable. While this is a good thing, ultimately only ONE job is created through these efforts. Further, when you add in funding support during training for up to six months that most unemployed are entitled to, housing support, childcare and Medicare support costs, the numbers balloon quite significantly.

While this investment is better than the alternative, consider this: What if a qualified entrepreneurial support program was officially recognized at the federal level as a bona fide path for those seeking new jobs? Of course, there would need to be “controls” and support to ensure that those serious about the concept would be supported by these programs. But for the same or less cost of training for a single job, an individual could be supported in creating a new business in their region. Consider further that while a typical small business owner might make hypothetically make roughly $60-100k after costs, they typically employ 3-5 direct employees within their business and often many more. So, an investment that used to produce ONE job suddenly produces 4-6 or 20 or hundreds. Which is a better investment?

Adding to this the aspect of the knowledge-based economy. The key factor that employers consistently ask for is not a particular degree or a certain certification. That may have been the case years ago, but today current trends show that key skills being searched for are critical thinking, flexibility, adaptability, the ability to meet deadlines and manage others effectively, and creative in problem solving. I would argue that these skills cannot be “taught” in the traditional sense, but rather there is no other crucible that allows for the acquisition of these skills in a meaningful and rapid manner that the breathtaking, risky, all on the line field of entrepreneurship. Why is this important? Even in supporting entrepreneurs who fail-- and many do, we create a workforce with the fundamental skills most in demand by employers that have the potential to move the US economy forward in a meaningful way. Win if you lose, win if you win. Seems like a logical evolution in the workforce development arena.

Support entrepreneurship as a fundamental topic for workforce development. If you disagree, lets discuss. At the Science Center, we believe it’s time for the next phase in development our economy – building businesses and building a 21st century workforce.

Let’s be entrepreneurial about it.