Workforce development, an American approach to economic development, attempts to enhance a region's economic stability and prosperity by focusing on people rather than businesses. It essentially develops a human-resources strategy. Work-force development has evolved from a problem-focused approach, addressing issues such as low-skilled workers or the need for more employees in a particular industry, to a holistic approach considering participants' many barriers and the overall needs of the region.
Work-force development has historically occurred in two forms: place-based strategies that attempt to address the needs of people living in a particular neighborhood, and sector-based strategies that focus on matching workers' skills to needs in an industry already present in the region.
Across both approaches, themes for best practices have emerged. Successful workforce development programs (WDPs) typically have a strong network of ties in a community, and are equipped to respond to changes in their environments. Additionally, they take a holistic approach to the problems faced by participants.
The responsibility for work-force development in the United States has rested on the government's shoulders for at least a century, since the advent of public schools. This formal system of education replaced earlier systems in American history when students whose parents desired them to learn a trade other than their parents' took up apprenticeships. Informal schooling took place at home, depending on the household's ability and income level. Public schools were founded to prepare students to earn a living wage by providing them with skills such as reading and arithmetic. However, employers still typically provided vocational training on-the-job.
Traditional work-force development has been problem-focused. Economic development practitioners evaluated neighborhoods, cities, or states on the basis of perceived weaknesses in human-resource capacity. However, recent efforts[when?] view work-force development in a more positive light. Economic developers use work-force development as a way to increase equity among inhabitants of a region. Inner-city residents may not have access to equal education opportunities, and work-force development programs can increase their skill levels so they can compete with suburbanites for high-paying jobs.
Workforce development as of 2016 often takes a more holistic approach, addressing issues such as spatial mismatch or poor transportation to jobs. Programs to train workers often form part of a network of other human-service or community opportunities.