When workforce development met entrepreneurism

Jobs won: Entrepreneurship is an important -- and sometimes overlooked -- component of workforce development, according to Rosalie Drago.

This has certainly been a busy year for workforce development – especially if you know what workforce development truly is.

In 2019, in this space, we’ve discussed key tools for robust and impactful workforce development, including equitable and inclusive growth strategies; leveraging relationships between economic developers, employers and high-school educators; and evaluating the work-first and college-first paths.

But we haven’t focused specifically on one of the most critical components of workforce development: entrepreneurship.

At its core, workforce development is talent development, a regional human resources strategy designed for both responsiveness and sustainability. To do it right – that is, to effectively create economic prosperity for both companies and workers – requires deep ties to individual communities, and vigilant identification of opportunities to put as many people to work as possible.

Enter entrepreneurship. The practice of becoming and remaining a successful business owner encompasses all the desirable skills that employers crave – problem-solving, a learning mindset, a desire for continuous self-improvement and cross-functional knowledge of budgeting, communications, promotion and leadership.

Rosalie Drago: Motivated matchmaker.

We’ve all heard the statistics about small business being a main job driver. On Long Island, that looks like Soter Technologies, where founder Derek Peterson created technology, built up both his tech and production teams and continues to grow, taking more space in Ronkonkoma and bringing more Long Islanders along for the ride.

We hear a lot about failure rates, too. All businesses suffer some form of failure; the best get stronger from it. When it comes to overcoming failure and promoting entrepreneurship as a workforce driver, the answer is in regional support.

“Small businesses develop talent, their own and that of their fellow entrepreneurs,” noted Corrinne Graham, founder of Lindenhurst-based Graham International Consulting and Research and co-chairwoman of the Women’s Business Committee at Long Island Advancement of Small Business. “I take on interns, and many of them are planning on starting their own business. They get experience, and we help each other grow.”

Personal and professional growth are often intertwined, Graham added, and failure is usually a part of success.

“What do you need to know how to do?” she said. “What don’t you know? As small-business mentors, we have to help people build their competency in all areas of their lives.”

One solid opportunity for entrepreneurs to help sustain a workforce is to focus on a region’s specific industry or existing developments, and contribute to the local supply chain. This is done often in rural areas, as detailed in “Igniting Rural Entrepreneurship,” a segment of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Investing in America’s Workforce project.

It’s also happening right here on Long Island. I have the good fortune to serve as co-chair (alongside Nassau County Legislator Siela Bynoe) of a Workforce Development Committee focused on the Nassau Hub project. Comprised of community-based organizations and local leaders in the workforce-development space, our committee is strategizing on how to develop small businesses immediately surrounding the Hub – everything from construction to maintenance to hospitality and more.

Lawrence Levy: New heights in Ascend LI’s sights.

One of the most significant Island efforts in this regard is Ascend Long Island, a partnership between Hofstra University and BOC Capital, a registered Community Development Financial Institution. The program provides resources in the areas of procurement, access to capital and access to markets, focusing on small-business owners within “The Corridor,” a collection of underserved Nassau County communities stretching from Hempstead Village to Freeport to Roosevelt to Uniondale.

Ascend Long Island aims to create an ecosystem of support for diverse business owners, with community partners and anchor businesses helping entrepreneurs build capacity through training in the “3 Ms” – management, money and markets

“Ascend Long Island has done a great job preparing diverse entrepreneurs to join the supply chains of larger companies, and thus boost economic activity and aspiration in their communities,” noted Lawrence Levy, Hofstra’s vice president for professional studies and economic development and co-chairman of the Ascend program.

“But we’ve come to realize that once these businesses begin scaling up, they’re going to need a well-trained, expanded workforce to fulfill these bigger contracts,” added Levy, also executive dean of Hofstra’s National Center for Suburban Studies. “And business owners will tell you that finding, training and retaining employees is one of their toughest challenges.

“So, we are now exploring the creation of a seamless pipeline between diverse businesses and potential employees.”

That’s the ticket. Long Island has all the right people and know-how in place to execute smart workforce-development strategies, including strong support of job-creating startups. All that’s needed is unity – one region with one strategy, covering all of our people, communities and businesses.

Rosalie Drago is Long Island regional director for the Workforce Development Institute, a statewide nonprofit focused on job creation and retention. The WDI pilots, supports and scales workforce-development initiatives that foster empowering careers for Long Islanders and a talented workforce for Long Island businesses.