The responsibilities of a workforce investment board are vast, and chief among them is to oversee local career centers where job seekers can find employment information and connect to career development and training opportunities in the area. To do this well, WIBs need a clear understanding of the needs of the community they serve. Launch a proactive effort to unearth the needs of the people in your community with these four tips:
1. Leverage Your Community & Employer Contacts
You likely already have a list of local community leaders and employers; now it’s time to reach out to the people on it and ask for their input. Kiwanis clubs, for example, use their contact lists to conduct interviews with local leaders and learn the needs of their communities.1
Start this outreach effort by sending an email introducing yourself and your WIB and explaining what you are trying to do. Invite recipients to email their thoughts on the needs of the community to you. What are they seeing? Stress that as a community leader, they have insight that you could use. To those who don’t reply to your email, follow up with a phone call in about a week. Track the responses you get and look for common themes and issues that come up. You may also wish to administer surveys and conduct in-person interviews with your contacts in the community.
Don’t forget to reach out to your community’s de facto leaders as well. Communities often have informal leaders who might not have an official title but are recognized by people in the community. To identify these, Elisa Herrera of the Latino Leadership Council recommends asking individuals in the community whom they go to for help and support.2 Make sure they name specific individuals, she emphasizes. For instance, if they say they go to their church for help, ask them to name the person at their church they go to.
2. Form a Community Advisory Committee
Consider forming a community advisory committee. This committee would be made up of people representing a cross-section of the community — business owners, community leaders, and members of youth organizations and church groups. They would be tasked with identifying the local community's needs and bringing that information back to your WIB.
The types of things committee members could be looking into include:
- The problems that people in the community are frequently experiencing
- What services would help mitigate these problems
- The activities of community life, such as groups and events held at local churches, political organizations, women's organizations and youth organizations
3. Go Door-to-door
Perhaps the best way of getting input from the community is to go door-to-door and ask everyone the same question. For example, the La Grange, Illinois, Head Start program goes door-to-door in apartment complexes to recruit low-income families to apply for early childhood education federal funding.3 When conducting door-to-door interviews, be sure to ask questions of both heads of the household and not just one.
This is not only a great way to collect data, but it’s also an effective way to build awareness about what services your WIB offers. Bring plenty of brochures and business cards to hand out, and offer to follow up with those who seem interested in your services.
4. Conduct Periodic Surveys
Another way to gather information is to conduct periodic surveys. One way of doing this is to distribute questionnaires using mailing lists or local community partners such as medical clinics. You can also conduct phone surveys. For instance, you might survey your current and past clients, asking a list of questions about their needs and the needs of other people they know. Make sure your survey is large, representative and random enough to give accurate results. Use clear, simple questions that are easy to answer.
Gaining an understanding of your community's needs requires a proactive approach. By taking these steps, you will become more attuned to local needs and how your career center can serve the community.
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