Building programs and initiatives to develop a skilled and educated workforce – a Q & A with Alex Johnson

October 29, 2015

Alex Johnson is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Capital Workforce Partners in Hartford, Connecticut.

Can you tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?

My career in the workforce development system began early.   I received my master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of Connecticut. During that time, I also worked full time as a corrections officer. Once I graduated, I took a position in workforce development and got caught up in the workforce world.  My time as a correctional officer was a great start to my career in workforce development.  I wanted to be supportive and instrumental in providing opportunities and choices to people, so they won’t have to go down the criminal route in order to provide for themselves and their families.  I believe I provide those same opportunities now in the workforce development arena.

With over three decades of workforce development experiences, how does the field look different now than when you first started your career?

In the mid-late 70s, the Federal Government put money directly into the community via community based organizations to do most of the trainings. The notion of building workforce systems and engaging employers in the development of programs didn’t come into play until the 80s and 90s, when the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) really helped acknowledge their importance.  Systems built around Labor Market Information (LMI), customer choice, employer engagement and comprehensive service integration became the norm.

I have really been a part of an evolution in workforce development. We now have national associations that are really involved in building larger systems to help job seekers and employers. Not only are they involved in building the systems but also sharing best practices. Also, in the early times of workforce development there were no private industry councils. Today we continue to build and uplift private sector engagement which is continued through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

How has your partnership with NSC helped to advance your work in Connecticut, and how has your work helped to inform and progress NSC’s efforts?

I got started with NSC years ago. It started with the Campaign for Working Connecticut and Alice Pritchard asked for interested stake holders to think about the work on the ground and how we could give it a national voice. I saw how NSC connected the work that was being done on the ground and uplifted it to a national platform.  NSC has been number 1 on many critical issues, such as creating pathways for middle skill jobs. It was an advocacy strategy that spearhead the need for sectors and a forward thinking dialogue around the skills agenda which was very important for Connecticut.

As a member of NSC’s Leadership Council, what encouraged you to engage with NSC at such a meaningful level, and why should others consider doing so?

I benefited greatly from the many sessions and briefings that NSC made available. Most beneficial for me are the “What’s going on in Congress” briefings hosted at the Skills Summit. It helped me understand the National direction that NSC was going to take and what my role was in helping accomplish that goal.  I welcomed the opportunity to be on the Leadership Council because as a practitioner, I would say the same things that NSC was saying. National Skills Coalition is a representation of my thoughts, there is synergy between NSC and my own platform.

Since joining Capital Workforce Partners in 2001, what do you feel has been your most meaningful accomplishment?

There are so many that resonate. Since I’ve been a part of the workforce development world for so long, I’ve always devoted myself to making sure that resources and services are made available for a better tomorrow – and that our systems are better than yesterday.

As a workforce development board, we have used 100% WIA youth funds for serving out-of-school youth. We have been trying to use those resources to teach skills that can lead to middle-skill jobs. We’ve been building pathways for out of school youth, through the Opportunity Youth Initiative with The Aspen Institute.

Our work to add more One-Stop Centers – and to have those centers be responsive to the needs of job seekers – is another meaningful accomplishment.  We are also using technology as a tool to maximize limited staff resources and to enhance the skills for job seekers. We are really making sure that we use technology to connect and enhance the skills that make our people more marketable. We continue to evolve and meet the needs of businesses and job seekers.

In the workforce world we spend a lot of time tracking job seekers but not so much the employers.  I am currently creating opportunities for larger employer engagement.  These models will then pave the way to a more recognized relationship we need to have with the business community.

Finally, I’m proud of work to build sector-based, employer-lead partnerships in manufacturing and healthcare – particularly around building workplace education and pathways for front-line employees to move up the career ladder.