The Appalachia Partnership Initiative's Investments in Workforce Development and Catalyzing the Community

Reflections from 2014 Through 2018

by Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Shelly Culbertson, Nupur Nanda

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Research Questions

  1. How did API investments and particular workforce development programs and activities evolve and adapt to meet the API's vision and strategy?
  2. What was the geographic scope of workforce development programs, and which beneficiaries did the programs reach?
  3. To what extent did API workforce development programs meet their stated goals?
  4. How did API workforce development programs and API leaders engage the community of stakeholders in the region?
  5. How sustainable were the workforce development programs?

Recognizing the workforce and education challenges facing the energy and advanced manufacturing industries in the tri-state Appalachia region of southwestern Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, and eastern Ohio, the Social Investment Team of the Chevron North American Appalachian Mountain Business Unit launched the Appalachia Partnership Initiative (API) in 2014 and committed to investing $20 million to support K–12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce development programs to educate and train local adult workers in energy and advanced manufacturing industries. In addition to the Chevron Corporation, founding partners include the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Additional partners to join API were Grable Foundation (in 2016) and Catalyst Connection (in 2017). The RAND Corporation serves as the external research and analysis lead for the API.

RAND researchers are conducting an assessment of the API's progress toward its vision and goals, with interim assessments conducted annually from 2016 to 2019. This report is the third assessment and focuses on API's progress in meeting its goals and vision for workforce development activities and community catalyst initiatives from October 2014 through December 2018.

Key Findings

  • API workforce development program strategies evolved with the aim of addressing two long-standing challenges in promoting and supporting technical careers: (1) the negative perception of technical career pathways and (2) changing industry demands.
  • Key evolutions in API workforce development programs included developing new mechanisms for coordination among workforce development stakeholders, training high school students for industry-based certifications or apprenticeships, and engaging industry in more direct ways.
  • From October 2014 through July 2018, API workforce development programs reached a wide range of working-age participants, including women, veterans, and rural residents. However, API workforce development programs tend to be located in areas with large, urban populations.
  • Most of the program administrators interviewed described the need for better awareness of opportunities in manufacturing and energy careers, viewing lack of awareness as a key reason for a shortage of candidates participating in their programs.
  • Multiple programs focused on skills acquisition, aiming to align skills training with industry needs.
  • Program administrators reported that industry engagement was critical but encountered challenges in keeping up with evolving industry demands.
  • API workforce development programs engaged with one another, with industry (as measured through financial contributions and in-kind contributions), and with higher education institutions.
  • Sustainability of API programs (e.g., the potential ability of programs to continue into the future without API funding) is a key goal of API leadership.

Recommendations

  • API leaders should continue to support programs' agility and continual evolution. The technical, performance, and workplace skills needed in the energy and advanced manufacturing labor market changes rapidly with the advancements of new innovative technologies. It is vital for training programs, K–12 schooling, and college programs to keep pace with these evolving demands.
  • API may want to consider engaging with and funding more workforce development programs in Ohio and rural counties to ensure that programming reaches the talent pool within the 27-county API region.
  • To encourage programs to improve awareness and best meet the workplace and technical skills in most demand by employers, API should focus its attention on promoting and marketing job and career opportunities to build career awareness and support programs in forging relationships with employers and industry partners.
  • API should continue to focus its efforts on coordinating its sponsored programs with one another and with industry leaders and to propel policy action at the state level.
  • Future API funding should focus on supporting the coordination of activities and initiatives, much like how the TEAM Consortium is supporting the tri-state's workforce development planning to inspire long-term and larger-scale impact.

This research was sponsored by Chevron Corporation and conducted within RAND Education and Labor and RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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