Emergence of Workforce Development: Definition, Conceptual Boundaries, and Limitations

Published on Nov 12, 2007

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Emsi Burning Glass

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This chapter is an excellent introduction to the background, definition, and goals of “workforce development.” It is one chapter in a forthcoming book on technical/vocational education and training. Posted here by permission of the lead author.


Jacobs, R., & Hawley, J. (2008). Emergence of Workforce Development: Definition, Conceptual Boundaries, and Implications. In R. MacLean & D. Wilson (eds.), International Handbook of Technical and Vocational Education and Training, Amsterdam: Kluwer.


Scholars and practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds have begun to use the term workforce development. This increasing usage requires sustained effort to create the theoretical background for the new term. The article reviews the reasons that the term has become more important, focusing on five converging concepts: 1) globalization, 2) technology, 3) the new economy, 4) political change, and 5) demographic shifts. This background serves as foundation for a new definition of workforce development that rests on a simultaneous consideration of individual, organization, and societal levels. Finally, the chapter discusses the implications of workforce development on the thinking of policy makers, researchers, and practitioners alike.

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