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NLC project explores ways to build rural workforce.

There is no coordinated strategy in America for developing its workforce. According to experts in the field, America's public and private institutions - government, business, and labor - have become barriers to the flexible response which is the key to future prosperity.

The purpose of NLC's Rural Workforce Project, funded by the Ford Foundation through the Aspen Institute, is to look at how three separate strands of federal and state funded governmental services - education, employment and training, and the JOBS program under the Welfare Reform Act - are working together to meet the workforce needs of rural areas.

There is a consensus building among rural policy experts, researchers and rural development groups that new and different strategies are needed to insure the viability of rural areas. We are looking at the ways in which current human resource programs together can create higher wage opportunities and in what ways government human resource and education programs can contribute to the long-term viability and development of rural areas.

This "nonsystem" is described in the following observations, which apply to both rural and urban areas:

* There is no system or strategy for investing in and developing human capital. Instead there is an array of related but uncoordinated programs and institutions concerned with human capital development.

* Business participation in employment programs has increased, but is still sporadic and labor market realities are still not consistently reflected in the plans and operations of employment and training programs, and community colleges, let alone in the allocation of resources among competing programs.

* Contemporary education and employment curricula do not reflect changing requirements for workforce preparation. The focus on narrow-based technical skills training, for example, instead of the development of broader skills and the capacity for life-long learning, is a continuing problem.

In many ways rural areas face more severe problems than their urban counterparts. Recent statistics provide a stark look at rural America. Today a greater proportion of people in rural areas than in metro areas need some form of assistance to attempt to reach economic self-sufficiency.

* In 1990 rural median income was 75% of urban income.

* In 1990 the rural poverty rate continued to be higher than the urban rate by nearly one third.

* In 1991, both unemployment and school drop-out rates were higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

* Projected economic recovery in rural areas was on a slower cycle than urban recovery, resulting in a widening economic and social rural-urban gap.

* Characteristics of rural areas that further exacerbate their economic and workforce problems are the following:

* Higher transportation costs;

* Reliance on part-time non-career citizen officials for leadership;

* Heavy dependence on a small number of businesses and industries;

* Need for outside assistance to plan development and adjustment strategies; and

* Lower expenditure per pupil for rural schools.

According to the North Carolina Rural Economic Development center, the vitality of rural areas requires a number of conditions, and in order for them to be created there needs to be a shift in the thinking and actions of state and local leaders. The required conditions are:

* the ability to compete in a global economy;

* a workforce with solid math, reading and reasoning skills;

* ability of rural areas to become catalysts for change;

* ability of rural areas to create their own visions of the future;

* leadership that encourages diversity and change;

* rural leadership that invests in its own people;

* ability to do comprehensive long-range planning; and

* ability to engage in collaborative efforts.

Promising strategies in rural areas are those that enable rural areas to shape their own futures and increase the economic self-reliance of their citizens.

Through its Rural Workforce Project research, NLC will identify promising strategies for meeting the human resource development needs of people in rural communities at both the state and local levels. We are also looking at the roles local elected officials in rural areas can take to address the gaps and inadequacies of these systems.

Although they do not have direct responsibility for these programs, local municipal and town officials are getting more and more requests to find child care slots, improve schools and create more jobs. We will communicate these findings to state and local governments in our report which will be published later this year.

ABOUT THIS REPORT

One out of four Americans live in rural areas. Rural America is rich in recreation areas, natural resources and the community values many urbanites yearn for. However, rural America has become a topic of increased concern to state and federal policy makers. Industries that have formed the basis of many rural economies across the country - oil, mining, agriculture, timber - can no longer support rural areas.

In order to address the need for economic diversification and workforce development in rural areas, rural experts at both the state and national levels recommend leadership development programs and technical assistance that enables rural communities to develop their own strategies for survival.

Leaders in rural areas are coming to the realization that they cannot turn their communities around by themselves and, in many areas, are engaging in collaborative strategies for economic revitalization with other local governments, both county-wide and regionally. As a result, new types of service delivery arrangements and governing structures are emerging at the local level. States are also devising new ways to assist rural areas.

This report brings together examples of both state and local strategies and ideas for addressing rural needs.
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Report; includes related information about the report; National League of Cities
Author:Furdell, Phyllis
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Aug 24, 1992
Words:893
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