What is Workforce Development?

In simple terms, workforce development is an economic development initiative that helps workers acquire knowledge and relevant skills for improved workplace performance and career advancement. The initiative is often provided by local governments but can be privately developed and funded as well. The program layout and conditions – like what job skills are provided – are often dependent on the region and demands of the employers and individuals in the area.

The Evolution of Workplace Development

Workforce development has evolved greatly since the concept was first introduced. Initial workforce development initiatives are commonly traced back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, which was sparked by poverty and widespread unemployment during the Great Depression.1

Workplace development has since evolved into nationwide individual initiatives that help people find jobs and receive basic skills training with economic development in mind. This approach helps address spatial mismatch wherein people lack the skills to gain employment in local career fields. Determining which skills are needed for local industries with an excess of open positions is generally accomplished through informed evaluations.

Modern workforce development works in tandem with the public and regional employers. By working with community employment leaders, workforce development officials can determine what specific skills and careers are in demand, better serving and preparing the students for lifelong career opportunities.

How it Works

Though each workforce development program is different and utilizes different methods to succeed, in general each successful development strategy shares three characteristics.

  1. Evaluation – Each workplace development initiative utilizes an evaluation that assesses a community’s present and future needs.
  2. Employer Ties – By developing ties with regional employers, workforce development officials can better understand what skills are lacking in certain communities, what career fields are in higher demand and what employers find valuable.
  3. Adapt – It’s important each program remains adaptable. Conditions always change, so the initiative must be ready to adapt as well.

Two Common Workplace Development Approaches

There’s two common workplace development approaches – the place-based approach and sector-based approach. Both approaches share the same goal, but there are some functionality differences along the way to understand.


Place-based initiatives focus more on the workers in the region and what their needs are. Essentially, the approach determines how workers can quickly gain general job skills and be placed into the job market. The approach also addresses concerns within the region, such as literacy and housing development. In most circumstances, the place-based approach works well for financially challenged communities with large amounts of unemployed workers.


Sector-based approaches are focused on the industries located in the community and how the public can be best equipped to meet the standards in which those industries operate. The approach combines the needs of the public with the community’s employers to create a long-term fit. The fit can take longer to cultivate due to focused training, but the result is often more beneficial long-term for both the employee and employer. This approach heavily utilizes community evaluations to determine what skills and training are in highest demand in the region.

Workforce Development in the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia’s Division of Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning have recently identified seven local career fields that are high in demand:2

  • Automotive and Truck Maintenance and Repair
  • Construction and Property Management
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Healthcare-Direct Care and Health Care Administration
  • Hospitality and Tourism
  • Information Technology and Office Administration
  • Infrastructure

The University of District of Columbia (UDC), in conjunction with the Division of Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning (WDLL), proudly provide D.C. residents the chance to enhance their job skills and future career advancement opportunities. Tuition for UDC’s five workforce development pathway programs is free for D.C. residents 18 and older. Contact UDC’s workforce development program by calling (202) 274-7181.

1 https://www.pawork.org/about-us/history-of-workforce-development/
2 https://www.udc.edu/cc/workforce-development/

University of the District of Columbia - Infographic - Career Pathways