The LEED Programme has completed a major international comparative project focusing on the integration of employment, skills and economic development at the local level.
The focus was on how these employment, skills and economic development policy areas could generally be better integrated to maximise benefits for the economy and society, as well as to foster business development, and the enhancement of skills and social inclusion.
There are mounting calls to move ahead on this agenda and find ways to co-ordinate economic development activities and labour market policies more systematically. Economic development, employment and skills related initiatives can cross-fertilise and nurture synergies for the benefit of the local community if they are well co-ordinated. Yet, they are often managed separately. As a result, slow population growth and an ageing workforce generate skills shortages and hinder business growth, while many low-skilled workers remain stuck at the bottom of the labour market, representing an untapped resource for the economy.
Participating countries include Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania and the United States with the project also receiving support from the European Commission.
OECD countries have experimented with various measures to improve integration at the regional level, often focusing on decentralisation and partnership working. In some countries initiatives have been taken, such as the formation of Regional Skills Partnerships in the UK, which act as a means of integrating activity on skills, training, business support and labour market activity for regional economic development.
Similarly, in the United States, the state of Michigan embarked in 2004 on a state-wide initiative to fund 13 regional skill alliances in which local workforce, economic agencies and key businesses commit to collaborating on meeting the specific needs of key industries. At the same time, the governor of the state of Maine created a workforce cabinet made up of the Departments of Labour, Education and Economic Development, along with the presidents of the Community College and higher education systems. Similar initiatives have been taken in various other countries and regions of the OECD.
It is thus timely to identify the most effective ways to co-ordinate economic and workforce development.
How can these policy areas be integrated to maximise local prosperity and quality of life? Given the importance of the policy areas at local level, identifying ways to harmonise economic development and employment policy will represent a major step towards taking an integrated approach to local development and possibly provide guidance to other policy fields.