The National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) hosted the 2019 International Workforce Development Week in Washington, DC on November 5th & 6th. The event, put on annually by the World Association of Public Employment Services (WAPES), included international workforce development organizations from over 35 countries representing six continents. The workforce agencies convened for focused discussions on the future of work and how technology is impacting workforce development.

Scott Sanders, the Executive Director of NASWA, opened the conference and served as its Master of Ceremonies. NASWA is the Vice President for the America’s (North and South) and has a seat on WAPES’ managing board and executive committee. Mr. Sanders is NASWA’s designee on the board.  Charlie Terrell, the Director of the National Labor Exchange (NLx) for NASWA, served as the host to the visiting nation-states.

There are numerous common themes and workforce trends among the various Public Employment Service (PES) Agencies from around the world. These agencies are challenged with the common goal of trying to match diverse job seekers to employers looking for skilled employees. Common themes included:

  • The “dugout is empty” as employers across the globe continue to struggle to find enough qualified employees to fill the jobs the employers in their countries make available;
  • Exacerbating the lack of skilled workers to fill available jobs is the continued transition of employees in many nations, including the U.S. to temporary, part-time and self-employed jobs;
  • Skills mismatch. Unlike the U.S., which has had more jobs available in each of the last 19 months than unemployed persons to fill those jobs, and technically has no unemployment (Labor Economists currently believe that about 4.6% unemployment within the U.S. is merely temporary (short-term) “structural unemployment” or “full employment”), in almost every other country the problem is that the skills of those unemployed do not match the skills needed for the available jobs;
  • Most nation-states and industrial unions believe apprenticeship programs are a useful cure for skill mismatches, but employers are only begrudgingly embracing apprenticeship programs due to the “red tape” too often involved and because of philosophical beliefs that employees should come “ready-trained,” either via the school systems or via other employers and that employers should not be responsible for building employee qualifications (In Germany, however, between 55% and 60% of new employees arrive by way of formal apprenticeship training programs in many diverse crafts, professions and industries);
  • Re-Purposing: Underscoring the diffidence U.S. employers have to train employees is that only 10% of U.S. corporations have a “Workforce Development Plan,” while 80% of those same U.S. companies reportedly have a “Technology Development Plan.” However, most PESs report that employers, particularly U.S. employers, are recently taking the lead to “re-skill” their employees and transition them to other or higher levels of work.
Candee Chambers Sitting on Apprenticeship Panel at the 2019 Interanational Workforce Development Week

DirectEmployers Executive Director Candee Chambers participates on an apprenticeship panel during the event.


DirectEmployers’ Executive Director Candee Chambers told the representatives of the assembled nation-states about the benefits for employers which build apprenticeship programs. Candee also shared some practical tips about how employers could establish apprentice programs to help manage their talent acquisition efforts.

An obvious prerequisite to apprentice programs is a “talent development culture,” which aids employers not only in the success of their programs but also in the retention of employees who advance through their apprenticeship training.

An excellent real-life example is from a DE Member company, IBM. Stephen Dodd, a Project Executive with IBM, presented on a panel with Chambers and shared IBM’s success related to its 25 apprenticeship programs for various technology positions and the accompanying retention of the majority of those participants.
Another area of concern is the aging workforce. The aging of working populations around the globe (similar to the baby boom retirement problem in the U.S.) is bringing with it the collateral implications of:

  • replacing skilled employees,
  • re-skilling employees with dated skills,
  • engaging school systems to anticipate and train for the jobs of the future,
  • looming costs to society to fund retirement programs and increased healthcare delivery systems to treat these aging populations.

NOTE: Attendees viewed as worrisome that Latin America is “aging” its workforce at twice the speed of the U.S.

The widely perceived cure to the workforce aging problem is to increase productivity in the remaining working population, which then calls for more employee training and greater reliance on electronic tools and automation.

NOTE: While not discussed at the Conference, U.S. productivity has surprisingly been “flat” for the last three years despite a booming economy dragging the world economy up with it.

The list of concerns goes on:

  • The continued “polarization” of workforces, which still employ women disproportionately in lower-skill jobs and automated jobs, raises concerns for both near-term and increasing displacement and income deprivation. This concern is exacerbated by the observation in most countries that they were in a “slump” in the transition of low-income work to middle-income work amid a continuing “disappearance” of many “middle-skill” jobs due to automation and outplacement. This concern is somewhat ameliorated as industrialized countries increase “bundling” and outplacement of the task-based online work, which is helping many women and minorities overseas.
  • Jobs continue to be flexible and mobile within countries, and “globalization” and job flight continues, largely unabated.

The U.S. continues to export jobs out of the country aggressively and is often a major or the major employer in foreign nation-states. (A PES Minister reported, for example, that English, German, Portuguese and French had displaced their native Spanish as the primary corporate languages in Paraguay).

  • The continuing “rural/urban” divide almost all countries reported was occurring as people continue to move off the farm and head to the big cities for industrial work, congesting major cities and killing small towns.

NOTE: 98% of Americans worked on-the-farm in 1900. By contrast, 98% of Americans worked off-the-farm in 2000: a complete reversal in 100 years in the fastest transition on record of an agrarian society to an industrial one. (Still, however, only about 28% of Americans (a new high percentage) graduate from a 4-year college by age 25).

  • The changing world of work is creating jobs faster than the schools can train students to fill those jobs. This mismatch is made worse by the lack of engagement of school systems to know how they should be changing their teaching curricula to predict an admittedly often-unpredictable future workplace.
  • The popular attraction and adoption of AI (Artificial Intelligence) machine systems to automate both job searches within the PESs and the selection systems of employers is upon the PESs, and more AI is coming. For example, there were widespread reports of the PESs transitioning from being “a bridge” to new jobs to being “counselors” (as most are today), to now teaching job seekers how to use electronic tools to find jobs that match their skills and interests. Self-service kiosk models are on the minds of many PES with job counselors acting as trainers to help job seekers understand how to manipulate the PES self-use tools…like cashiers in U.S. supermarkets, which increasingly handle six self-check-out machines and come to the aid of shoppers who have hit a snag with the self-check-out machinery.Heads-Up U.S. Employers: You now need to think through how job seekers will find your jobs and job descriptions using AI tools the PESs are installing and training job seekers to use instead of PES Job Counselors doing that spadework for the job seekers.
  • In the U.S., “inter-active jobs” (involving face-to-face or customer inter-action and inter-personal collaboration) are “proliferating” as the service economy continues to expand.
  • Surveys of U.S. employers show that “referrals count.” Referrals have a reported 9-times greater chance of being interviewed and getting hired than non-referrals. (The continuation of the “Good Old Boy” and rise of the “Good Old Girl” network)?

The Bottom Line

There are numerous common themes and workforce trends among the various Public Employment Service Agencies from around the world. Challenged with the common goal of trying to match diverse job seekers to employers looking for skilled employees leaves us to wonder what lies ahead for workforce development. There are also lessons to be learned for prospective employers: such as how to ensure your job descriptions will be visible to job seekers as they now begin to use Artificial Intelligence tools in the workforce agencies to find your jobs.

John C. Fox
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