May 6, 2022
How Workforce Connections led the rapid workforce transformation to power robust economic diversification.
Like many successful building projects, it began with a blueprint. In 2017, the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance (LVGEA) published the first Workforce Blueprint for the Southern Nevada region. It laid out targeted employment sectors and identified skills gaps. However, building a robust and diverse workforce with skills aligned to employer needs—a demand-centered workforce, in other words—also required action, collaborative efforts and strategic vision.
Most importantly, it required a training ecosystem with a strong and vital leader, and that leader was Workforce Connections, Southern Nevada’s local workforce development board dedicated to the mission of connecting employers with a ready workforce.
Evidence of effectiveness.
Now just five years later, the success of the building effort can be seen in national recognition: In 2020, the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) selected Workforce Connections from 551 local workforce development boards, in partnership with the Vegas Chamber, to receive the Laurie Moran Award for best regional workforce and economic development alignment. In 2022, the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals (NAWDP) recognized Workforce Connections’ Employ NV Business Hubs with the “Program of the Year” award. And recognition has also come in the form of imitation: Workforce Connections’ innovations are being adopted in other communities across the nation.
However, the most powerful evidence is the workforce transformation that has powered the diversification of the Southern Nevada economy as well as the flourishing business and industrial development across more than a half dozen sectors, including manufacturing, tech and healthcare. Today, Henderson is home to globally leading companies such as Haas Automation, the world’s largest maker of machine tools; tech giants like Google; and financial innovators like Barclay’s.
“Workforce Connections has been key to our development efforts,” notes Derek Armstrong, Henderson’s Director of Economic Development and Tourism. “The way Jaime Cruz [Workforce Connections Executive Director] and his staff have streamlined, reorganized and broadened services has been strategic and crucial.”
Strategic skills acquisition. National accreditation.
Bringing a demand-centered workforce into being required efforts on two fronts—workforce and employer. “We had to start by looking at the skills required by employers,” explains Cruz, who assumed the position of Executive Director in 2017. “We had to look at needed credentials and skills, with the understanding that in a skills-based economy those skills must continually evolve. Then we have to look all the way to the beginning of the talent development pipeline, to K-12, to College of Southern Nevada, and even beyond, in order to start answering employer needs.”
One result: In 2018, Clark County became the largest county in the nation to become certified as an ACT WorkReady® Community by leveraging the assessments of WorkKeys® and National Career Readiness Certificates®. “That was the first moving part of the process,” notes Cruz. “This was the foundation. We were able to show employers a proven skill level in our community.”
A cohesive whole. A sharp focus on employer needs.
Another critical step was the creation of a unified workforce ecosystem under the new Employ NV Business Hub brand, connecting workforce and employers and connecting employers with an abundant array of local, state and federal resources. The Employ NV Business Hub reorganization brought vastly enhanced empowerment to employers, first through collaborative partnerships that allow employers to effectively communicate their needs.
“Employers have the main voice here,” says Cruz. And while job seekers were already connected through One-Stop Career Centers, employers are now better served through newly created Employ NV Business Hubs.
Staffed with expert workforce development professionals on site, the hubs offer a wealth of resources for no-cost assistance in training and recruitment, access to incentives, funding and more. A deep bench of collaborative partners support the effort; here in Henderson that includes Henderson Economic Development; Henderson Chamber of Commerce; the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation; and the Nevada Department of Business and Industry—one-stop service brought together under the new Employ NV Business Hub brand.
Another critical innovation: Bringing these hubs closer to businesses. Henderson’s first Business Hub was opened in the fall of 2021 in the Henderson City Hall just steps away from where business licenses are issued. The city’s newest Business Hub, scheduled to open later this year, will be located in the Green Valley Library to bring needed services to more small business owners located near established neighborhoods. Other hubs in the region have been located in chamber of commerce offices.
“They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” says Cruz. “Other communities are now following our lead, but Southern Nevada was the first to provide these services in these types of locations.”
Continuous evolution. Data-driven fine tuning.
Accolades and robust skills acquisition seem like a happy ending, but Cruz notes, “it’s very much an evolving process. We’re collecting data for continuous fine tuning.” The 2022 Blueprint has been published, while new sector partnerships are being strengthened and formalized for all seven key industries.
That’s important for potential investors to know, says Cruz.“If you are looking at Henderson, you can see that the employer is in the driver’s seat here, with sector partnerships driving solutions and specifically designed curriculum that aligns with employers’ needs and wants.
“This is a region that really cares about the employer’s voice and shows it with actions and not just words.”