Thursday, September 15, 2005

Strategy One: Comprehensive High Road Community Audits

Across the country, WIBs are developing strategic plans or state of the workforce reports. The best of these efforts use economic research to shape strategic goals for the workforce area. The best way to get a comprehensive look at the local economy to shape those goals is to conduct a community audit.
The term community audit can be used to describe a variety of economic surveys. Some workforce areas utilize only one aspect of the audit—an employer survey—to shape their strategies. Labor representatives should push for a comprehensive high road community audit that looks at both the supply (skills and needs of the workforce) as well as the demand (industry needs) issues in the area. Comprehensive high road community audits are more likely to focus on retaining or expanding good jobs that have made the community stronger than to focus on low-road employers needs for entry-level job applicants. The comprehensive high road community audit offers WIBs and labor representatives in particular the opportunity to identify concrete problems in the economy that are obstacles to retaining or creating good jobs in the economy. It allows them also to set workforce priorities based on sound data and a full picture of the regional labor market not just the needs of employers looking to fill entry-level jobs. For example, a community audit that includes a focus on retention of high wage jobs in manufacturing will have more impact on good jobs and strong communities than one that simply surveys employers and reports a need to train workers for jobs for big-box retailers as part of an economic development strategy to attract new, but relatively low-wage businesses.
Comprehensive high road community audits develop knowledge about the obstacles preventing workers from accessing good jobs and thereby create opportunities for alliances with a broad range of community stakeholders. An audit which demonstrates the importance of training community members for higher wage jobs and providing necessary supports to assist them in succeeding in those jobs is much more likely to win active support from community stakeholders for example than one which is aimed at just getting folks off the public welfare system.
WIBs will usually contract with an outside group to conduct the technical aspects of a community audit. The Institute can help connect the WIBs interested in embarking on this kind of audit to worker-friendly, credible research organizations that perform high quality research and understand the issues important to labor unions. One such list of labor-friendly research organizations is the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN) of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), availableThe Institute can help labor work with these groups on an audit approach that will meet the needs of the local workforce area while reflecting labor's values. In areas without this type of research organization, the Institute can assist local labor leaders both in conducting high road community audits and/or in building this type of research capacity in their regions.


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