How to Build Successful Workforce Development

People all over the world are looking for ways to gain or improve their professional skills to become competitive members of the workforce. In fact, 75% of workers state that they are willing to undergo professional training to remain employable in both current and future positions.
These workforce development opportunities are just as valuable for people who haven’t entered the workforce yet (like high school and college graduates). The education that students gain while in school is essential, but they can walk away without mastering the specific skills that employers are looking for. 
What is a workforce development program?
Workforce development programs are specialized courses that allow prospective and current employees to hone existing skills or learn new ones in order to become or remain competitive in the job market.
While this basic definition applies to most workforce development programs, these programs can look very different depending on their context. For example, companies might organize development programs to upskill their existing employees while schools train their students for the specialized role they will play in their future careers.
One of the best ways to train these students is to create custom microcredential courses they can complete online. Microcredentials are short, stackable courses that students can take to learn a specific skill like professional communication or how to use Photoshop. Once completed, students can display badges on their profiles for job-search websites to highlight their proficiency in those skills to employers.  
Who develops workforce development programs?
Students are the end-user of workforce development programs, preparing themselves to take on the new responsibilities associated with their future jobs. But, they aren’t the only group involved in these programs. Here are the primary parties involved in creating workforce development programs:
Teachers and professors. High school principals, teachers, and college instructors can have students complete these programs for class credit. This way, they’ll earn certifications in the skills employers are looking for all while developing their core education.
Local businesses might seek out opportunities to create workforce development programs to prepare graduates for work before they leave school. These students will require less training from their employers than other candidates, making them much more efficient than new hires without workforce development training.
While these groups have different perspectives and reasons for building workforce development programs, they can collaborate to create the best outcomes for students and businesses. For example, a high school might reach out to a local business to find out which topics and skills they should teach students. Then, the school can ask students to weigh in by describing which jobs they are interested in, what they find engaging, and which teaching methods are most effective.
Why start a workforce development program?
In recent years, instructors and employers alike have noticed a skill gap between entry-level workers and their more experienced colleagues. Many students haven’t mastered the skills they need to be successful in entry-level positions when they graduate, meaning that they are starting these jobs without any prior experience or knowledge of the responsibilities they’ll need to fulfill. Workforce development programs help schools fill this gap, providing education in the specific skills that employers are looking for in new hires.
In addition to bridging this skill gap, workforce development programs have a myriad of other benefits. Here are a few of the other benefits of these programs:
Employees are more qualified for their roles. When they learn the required skills and knowledge for roles, new hires are able to take on the responsibilities of the role faster and with less training from their employer. This can make them more confident in the work they produce, leading to happier employees and efficient work environments.
Schools are more effective.
Many schools simply focus on teaching the mandated curriculum, boosting test scores, and getting students to graduation. But, little emphasis is placed on preparing students for the “real world.” Workforce development programs equip students with the skills they need to succeed after high school ends, furthering the school’s impact on their success.
Education is more accessible. College is expensive, and not everyone has the resources or desire to earn a four-year degree. Professional development programs allow these students to earn the certifications they need without requiring large investments of time, energy, and money.
Businesses and communities prosper. With more skilled employees, businesses are more efficient. Increased efficiency helps them maximize their revenue, stimulating the economy and benefiting the community they operate in.
The benefits of successful workforce development programs often expand far beyond just helping students learn new skills. These programs can help stimulate the economy by helping local businesses better meet their needs with talented employees.
What are some best practices for successful workforce development programs?
Starting a workforce development program from scratch can be daunting, especially if you don’t have prior experience designing digital courses. Working with a service like Skyepack can help you build an effective course that makes learning new skills easy for students.
The process of working with an instructional design team will follow these four steps:
Identify the needs of the employer. First, you’ll need to determine which skills the potential employer wants entry-level employees to have. The best way to identify these skills is to ask the employer directly, but you might also contact current employees or reference online resources like job postings from the employer.
Identify the target audience. Next, choose a target audience for the program. The course should also fit the learners’ needs and abilities—for example, a course for college students can be more rigorous than one intended for high school students. Remember to make sure that the target audience you choose will be eligible for the job once they complete the course.
Create lessons customized to the employer. In addition to teaching future employees the skills they need to succeed in specific roles, you can also prepare them for other aspects of full-time employment. Describe the work environment and benefits of working with the specific employer to give learners an idea of what they can expect if hired. Consider adding brief tips like how to create a professional email signature or maintain a work-life balance to make their transition to working full-time smoother.
Provide a way for the learner to demonstrate proficiency in the skill. One of the most important parts of workforce development programs is the ability to demonstrate mastery of a specific skill. Incorporate a way to “certify” learners in the skill that demonstrates their proficiency to employers. Common ways to do this include using final assessments, having learners complete activities, and requiring a certain score on exams or quizzes.
Skyepack ensures that the course meets the needs of both employers and learners, leveraging Agile Instructional Design to create effective courses. Agile Instructional Design marries the components of the Agile framework in software design (like speed, efficacy, and flexibility) with instructional design to create courses that succeed in teaching learners new skills.
Prepare for learning obstacles. These programs are most often held online, meaning that learners can access them at any time, from anywhere. This flexibility allows learners to chip away at the course whenever they find time between classes, extracurricular activities, and part-time jobs, making it accessible to anyone with internet access. But, asynchronous remote learning can disconnect the instructor from the student, making it difficult for them to move past or troubleshoot learning obstacles.
To mitigate this disconnect and help learners who have questions about the course material, include information that nudges them in the right direction. Add links to additional resources that students can reference if they’d like to learn more, need a different perspective to understand the content, or have questions that aren’t answered in the course. For any obstacles students can’t solve on their own, make sure to include contact information for an instructor who will be able to help them move forward with the course.
Make the course engaging.
Learners will learn and retain information more easily if the content is engaging and interesting to them. Here are a few ways to improve student engagement in your workforce development program:
Infuse the course with purpose. Many learners struggle to complete courses if they don’t see or understand the reasons why they are important. Be sure to clearly explain the purpose behind each part of the course by describing the specific ways that mastering a certain skill will further their careers.
Add interactive elements. Imagine a course that only involves long reading assignments and video lectures—it would probably be difficult for most people to stay engaged during the entire course. Adding interactive elements breaks up the content, allowing learners to demonstrate their knowledge through short quizzes, practice questions, flashcards, and fill-in-the-blanks.
Using open educational resources. Open educational resources (OERs) are open-access resources that anyone with the internet can use. Anyone can make and upload OERs to online databases, meaning that they are usually much more up-to-date than traditional textbooks. Find OERs that relate to learners’ interests and current events to build a more relevant, engaging program.
Keep in mind that what learners consider to be engaging depends on who is in the target audience for the course. If possible, consider asking a small sample of your audience which teaching strategies they find most engaging.
Remain flexible. Due to technological advances and employers adopting new expectations for their employees, you should think of your professional development course as being fluid and subject to change at any time. It’s inevitable that the program will need to be updated and modified over time to adequately prepare students. 
If you create a course today, it’s likely that much of the content will be outdated in ten years. For instance, you might include an entire section about how to master a software program that is considered the industry standard. However, this software program will likely go through updates or switch to a completely different program after several years, making that portion of the program obsolete. To remedy outdated content, make sure to review the program every year to check for content that needs to be modified.
You may also need to adjust the course to better meet learners’ needs. It’s unlikely that your program will meet each learner’s unique preferences, especially on the first pass—but, you can consistently improve the program by requesting feedback from students. Add a survey to the end of the course so that students who complete the program have the opportunity to explain what worked, what didn’t, and what they think you should add to the course.

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