A word with Wendi Secrist of the Idaho Workforce Development Council

Sharon Fisher//February 18, 2021

A word with Wendi Secrist of the Idaho Workforce Development Council

Sharon Fisher//February 18, 2021

photo of wendi secrist
Wendi Secrist
Alex LaBeau, president of IACI
Alex LaBeau

The Idaho Workforce Development Council was created by then Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter during his 2018 State of the State message, then ratified by the Legislature, as an entity under the governor’s office, based on the recommendation of the Idaho Workforce Development Task Force.

Previously, it had been part of the Department of Labor, but major industry organizations such as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry and the Associated General Contractors had requested that it be pulled out as its own entity because of its importance in coordinating efforts to develop Idaho’s workforce. It includes a council drawn from industry and several staff positions.

The organization’s responsibilities are to improve the effectiveness, quality and coordination of programs and services designed to maintain a highly skilled workforce; provide for the most efficient use of federal, state and local workforce development resources; and to increase public awareness of and access to career education and training opportunities.

Wendi Secrist has served as executive director of the organization since 2017.

We talked with Secrist and Alex LaBeau, president of IACI, about what the organization is up to these days

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s new with the Idaho Workforce Development Council?

At the Idaho Workforce Development Council, our work gets Idahoans into the careers they want and puts them on a path to prosperity. We also make sure Idaho’s employers have the highly educated, highly skilled talent they need to thrive, today and into the future. The Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry represents hundreds of employers, large and small, across the entire state.These employers have indicated that their highest workforce development priority is better alignment and access to trained, skilled employees for an ongoing partnership as the foundation of Idaho’s economy.

To help reach these goals in early 2020, IACI and the council embarked on an initiative to implement the Talent Pipeline Management program in Idaho. TPM is an initiative of the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation to leverage supply chain management theory for workforce development. It involves building employer collaboratives to identify demand across occupations, communicate the competency and credential requirements, analyze current sources of talent and build new talent pipelines. We had the option of sending two or three individuals to the training, or applying to be one of two cohorts who could train up to 30 individuals in-state.

We decided to go big and were chosen to receive in-state support. The 30 leaders, from all corners of the state, completed their facilitator training in December and we are now launching employer collaboratives across a number of industries including construction, health care, cybersecurity, manufacturing and transportation. Over the next year, these employer collaboratives will organize themselves internally and then reach out to education and community partners to improve the alignment between education and careers.

What changes has Gov. Brad Little made to the Council’s mission?

None. However, the Governor is very interested in ensuring that the council continues to strengthen how we support rural Idaho. To that end, with the TPM initiative, we specifically identified leaders in rural Idaho to be trained as facilitators to ensure that we are addressing the needs of small and large employers, small and large communities.

What changes do you anticipate from the new federal administration?

The new administration has already sent out strong signals about their commitment to apprenticeship. The National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 passed the House on February 5 and doubles the investment in grant funding from $400 million per year to $800 million per year by 2026. Apprenticeship is a great option for building talent pipelines, and we look forward to continuing to grow Idaho’s efforts in this area. Across the council, Idaho Department of Labor and Idaho Career Technical Education, we have just over $6 million in grants from the US Department of Labor to add nearly 3,000 apprentices over the next four years.

What’s happening with your apprenticeship programs?

The Workforce Development Council recently received a $2.5 million grant from the US Department of Labor to expand youth apprenticeship — we are doing this in partnership with Idaho Business for Education, modeled after CareerWise Colorado. Over the next four years, we plan to place 400 youth in apprenticeships statewide. Our focus is on high school youth, but we can work with any youth from 16 to 24 years old. The first apprentices under the program will be placed within the next six to eight weeks. IBE is working with businesses across the state to develop traditional and non-traditional apprenticeships — from auto mechanics to drone operators to meat cutters to cybersecurity specialists.

What’s Idaho’s biggest challenge in workforce development and how do you solve it?

Idaho’s biggest challenge is the alignment of skills and competencies between our employers and our workforce, and how our education partners can provide training to teach those skills. Skills are inclusive of both technical skills and professional or “soft” skills. TPM is an important first step in providing more clarity and actionable data on what employers actually need, and how those needs change over time. Our education and workforce development system can then use those signals to align curriculum, teaching methods, projects, etc. We’ll never have 100% alignment, as not every employer needs the same skills, but if we can achieve 65-75% alignment, then employers can use various work-based learning models to help their employees achieve proficiency more quickly.


What sort of training is most needed in Idaho?

Idaho needs training that aligns with employers’ needs — nimble training that adapts as technology changes. In the coming years, Idaho needs to focus on stackable training that can help Idahoans realize career pathways in all its key industries. For instance, training that supports an individual becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant or Nursing Aide and having a clear pathway to becoming a Licensed Practical or Registered Nurse. Work-based learning is also going to be key to the future of training in Idaho. Work-based learning allows individuals to learn while they earn, and employers to build long-term relationships with their employees.

Last year, you were working on a post-COVID training program. What will that consist of and when will it be able to start?

Yes, we have a new program called Idaho Launch where Idaho residents who plan to work in Idaho can seek tuition assistance for approved training. Last summer, the Idaho Workforce Development Council conducted a large survey of employers seeking to understand the skills they would be hiring for in the near future. Over 800 employers, in all of Idaho’s key industries, responded, resulting in 42 skills they needed most rising to the top. Idaho Launch features training opportunities that correspond to those 42 skills and connects Idaho residents to funding that can pay for 75-100% of their tuition. Idahoans can find out more information at Idaholaunch.com. They just need to fill out the form to be connected with an Idaho Department of Labor Career Planner.