After a great weekend in our nation’s capital at the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) 2016 Forum with 1,500 workforce leaders from across the county, here’s a quick glance at some of the key themes and trends that emerged.

Welcome to the Era of “Exponential Tech”

Vivek Wadhwa, tech entrepreneur and academic researcher, provided a thought-provoking keynote on just how rapidly the field of technology is changing. Case in point: the basic technology in an iPhone is approximately 1 billion times more powerful than the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon in 1969. These incredible advances—in fields such as robotics, A.I., computing, synthetic biology, 3D printing and medicine —are making it possible for small teams and organizations to do what used to be reserved for massive governments: solve the grand challenges in education, health, economics and security. His challenge to workforce development professionals? You cannot successfully accomplish your goals looking backwards. The future changes in technology in the next ten years will radically change the ways we help drive live and work – if we’re not looking forward, we’ll be left behind.

An Employer-Driven Strategy Is the Right Strategy

Our strategy, one focused on driving a business-led workforce development system first and foremost, using the full set of policy tools provided under WIOA, is the right strategy for supporting our regional economic growth in South Central PA. While we must find innovative ways to bridge the needs of our job seekers with the demands of the employer market, the keystone of our success relies upon the honest input and expertise of our employer partners.

Fresh Ideas Across Our System

The network and quality of the public workforce system has grown significantly over the past several years. The conversations around WIOA and the innovations within the public workforce system have brought many new faces and fresh ideas to the table. In years past you would be hard pressed to find conversations about the impact of artificial intelligence, robotics, and rapidly changing demographic preferences has on our workforce investments.

Change Requires Transformational Leadership

Two of the most significant barriers to any community seeking to effectively collaborate on a social issue are, “Who gets the money and who gets the credit?” Too often collaboration and partnerships get derailed by one of these two critical questions. However, if your organization has transformative leadership that is willing to share, partner, collaborate and elevate the work of other organizations, you’ll succeed where other communities may struggle. This truly is about implementing real change that impacts the communities we serve, regardless of who gets the credit. The remarkable part about this philosophy? If your organization is committed to implementing real change, it’s likely those other two questions will take care of themselves.

Our Work, And Beyond…

Finally, the impact of our investments extend well beyond what’s traditionally been considered “the public workforce development system.” We have a responsibility to consider the reach of our work through conversations about the development and growth of small businesses, the economic mobility of our communities, the challenges of competing priorities in public education, and the affects of globalization on our regional economy. We, as responsible stewards of public resources, have a critical role to play in all of these areas.

Thanks to the NAWB and all of the workforce development leaders at the Forum who made this an informative and enlightening conference. Can’t wait to see you next year!