Promoting Inter-Agency Cooperation in Sector Strategies

In 2003, the State of Illinois implemented the Critical Skill Shortages Initiative (CSSI).  CSSI was a statewide effort to:  1) understand the root causes of worker shortages in critical skill occupations; and 2) promote the development of innovative approaches to address these root causes at the regional level. In order to promote a regional framework, the state was organized in ten regions, which required the 26 local workforce investment areas to cooperate and collaborate in the identification of regional shortages and their root causes and the eventual implementation projects intended to address the root causes.

CSSI was designed with a three year funding cycle.  The planning grants and the first year of implementation grant were funded soley with Workforce Investment Act (WIA) 10 percent discretionary funds. In year two, viable projects were required to have 50 percent local matching funds, and in year three, the projects were intended to be wholly funded at the local level. All grants were provided to a lead local workforce organization in each of the ten regions.

One of the lessons learned from CSSI was that WIA funding is not enough to address the broad spectrum of issues that are in play for sector strategies on its own.  The analogy of trying to move a boulder with a toothpick is an apt description.  As projects moved into year two, nearly all of the local matching funds came in the form of WIA forumla funding allocated to the local workforce investment areas.  What we realized is that the WIA system must be more focused on its area of expertise, providing direct training and supportive services to individuals; and that other state agency partners must play a key role in their areas of expertise so that all partner efforts are aligned to address critical skill shortages.

To help bring the relevant state partners into alignment, the State created the Governor's Subcabinet for Economic Development. This group brings the directors and key senior staff of the agencies responsible for: economic and workforce development, elementary and secondary education, higher education, and social services.  With the leaders of these agencies now working together, along with the gravitas of the governor's office spearheading the effort, we are now taking tangible steps at aligning the services of these agencies to provide a more holistic, coordinated approach at addressing critical skill shortages. At this point, this group is focusing on healthcare, specifically to address the shortage of nurses. If this model proves successful, it will likely be applied to other demand sectors identified by the Illinois Workforce Investment Board as being key to our economy.

Are other states using this high level mechanism to promote interagency cooperation, and if so, how are they doing it and what have they learned so far?