It is far from a secret that the collaboration between community colleges and local businesses hasn’t been working effectively for decades. Although their partnership formally exists, it is not resulting in outcomes that benefit both parties, graduates, and the U.S. economy.
That has been one of the causes of the middle-skills gap, a problem plaguing the country and its competitiveness. An increasing number of employers struggle with finding skilled candidates for occupations requiring technical knowledge and education beyond high school.
And what it takes to remove the middle-skills gap? – Community colleges must regain the position of a trusted and efficient portal that produces qualified middle-skills graduates, and employers must introduce them to the workforce through compatible job openings.
Restoring What’s Been Broken For Decades
But that sounds much simpler than it is in reality. It is challenging to pick up the pieces of a broken relationship and rebuild it, especially when one side is more engaged in healing it than the other.
According to the Partnership Imperative report, although educators and employers are both aware things must change and want to work on their collaboration, the former is much more actively involved. On the flip side, business leaders often choose not to engage deeply with their local community college.
That happens even though they know that community colleges are a pipeline that can generate the most compatible talent for their needs if there’s equal commitment. Yet, educators have shown more readiness to do what it takes to settle the differences and make a permanent positive change.
That means it’s time for employers to take the initiative and revive and enhance the partnership with community colleges. The following are things they should address to remove the impediments hindering effective communication with educators.
Issues That Employers Must Tackle To Mend Their Partnership With Community Colleges
- Negative Perception
Whether their perception is right or wrong, employers don’t see community colleges as the most effective partner in acquiring middle-skills talent. As a result, senior management rarely gets involved in the issue, and these partnerships are not perceived as strategically vital.
Instead of seeing community colleges as a fundamental source of candidates that meet their needs, they see them as just another supplier. That limits employers’ efforts at partnership and communication.
On the other hand, they don’t assume their lack of engagement might be among the principal causes of community colleges’ shortcomings.
- Insufficient Collaborative Spirit
Community colleges urgently need employers’ engagement in several areas and activities that would result in workforce-ready middle-skills talent. To a large extent, their collaboration depends on the effort of business leaders to provide support for curriculum development, qualified personnel that would serve as the faculty committee members, insights about future skills requirements, and work-based learning projects.
Yet, most community colleges have understood that, after decades of poor communication, employers might not be willing to meet these crucial needs. That has led to both parties having low expectations and perceiving marginal enhancements as significant accomplishments.
Moreover, educators learn to sideline more meaningful partnership ambitions and focus on securing safe and decent jobs for their graduates. After all, their priority is to provide some certainty to students, which is why they continue to work on their relationship with employers, even though they rarely get what they expect.
Things will likely remain the same until employers show a collaborative spirit and demonstrate their commitment through practical actions and initiatives. That would prompt educators to discuss the needs of their colleges more openly and seek solutions that work for both parties.
- Lack Of Trust
As the Partnership Imperative report found, most community colleges know they’re not producing sufficiently workforce-ready talent. However, employers are unaware of the role they play in that.
Instead, they solely express their sadness with the current situation, saying they don’t believe community college is equipped to deliver graduates ready to join the workforce. Thus, business leaders said that community college program leaders have an inadequate technical background to deliver state-of-art content successfully.
Moreover, they don’t believe that community colleges have the leadership needed to develop the workforce of the future and staff capable of managing solid long-term relationships. On top of that, employers think community colleges might be resistant to curriculum changes, making them less attractive partners for companies like ”theirs”.
But business leaders don’t know that educators are very self-critical and reflective, meaning they’re willing to work on their faults if the other party works on theirs, too. Hence, employers must put themselves in the shoes of community colleges and consider all the factors that caused the current situation.
That would allow them to see their part in the problem, as acceptance is a step closer to solving the issue. Employers must have more trust in the ability and willingness of community colleges to be effective partners and provide them with the necessary tools and support to achieve that.
- Losing Faith In The Fundamental Mission Of Community Colleges
Over 43 percent of employers agreed that community colleges lack the culture or mandate to create programs that align with their needs and requirements. They also said that these higher education institutions don’t have the necessary equipment and facilities to prepare and train students for the skills and capabilities businesses seek.
Indeed, educators agree that they lack some capacities that affect responsiveness and make it challenging to remove the obstacles hindering their partnership with employers. But they disagree that they lack the culture, equipment, or facilities necessary to respond to employers’ needs.
However, that shows that community colleges work under constraints employers don’t understand, yet they could help address them. Comprehending and helping solve these obstacles would also reignite faith in the culture of the community colleges and their ability to produce workforce-ready graduates.
- Presumptions Concerning Financial And Facility-Related Resources
Although many employers believe that community colleges are not data-driven, educators disagree. Moreover, community college leaders said they have the necessary tools and policies to collect insights and make data-driven decisions.
Both parties agree that community colleges lack resources in some of the critical areas for developing workforce-ready graduates, such as paying enough for skilled instructors and investing in connections with employers. However, it is not necessarily the responsibility of educators to address that gap, or at least not only theirs.
That expectation is unrealistic, and employers must quit those assumptions, as they create an even bigger rift between them and educators. Thus, they should stop assuming that community college students have no interest in working in their companies.
Contrary to the opinion of nearly 50 percent of employers, students are not ambivalent and want to work with their firms if given a chance.
- Lack Of Open Dialogue
Even though both parties pride themselves on how they communicate with each other, something is not working well. For instance, 36 percent of community college leaders are unwilling to share information that would help employers hire talent.
But employers also don’t see their presence on industry boards as highly meaningful. They also said they’re unsure which community college to contact to start hiring relationships and partnerships.
Educators, on the other hand, struggle with the same issue: they complain that business leaders don’t provide specific contacts responsible for managing that connection.
- Unwillingness To Take The Initiative
Community colleges lack the resources to keep up with the labor market changes, while employers are not sufficiently engaged to help educators. Moreover, business leaders often make the jobs of educators more challenging by changing their recruiting requirements without updating the school.
That should come as no surprise since employers have low expectations from community colleges and little to no commitment to working on actions that support their partnership. The most pressing issue is that employers leave the onus of taking the initiative to educators.
They don’t think it’s urgent to take the first step in repairing their collaboration, as they don’t understand the constraints community colleges face. But according to the Partnership Imperative report, community colleges were beyond welcoming and happy to work on finding solutions whenever business leaders took the initiative.
On the flip side, educators weren’t received as positively as employers, confirming it should be the latter to open the dialogue. But how do they do that?
How Can Business Leaders Take The Initiative To Heal The Broken Partnership With Community Colleges?
The first step employers must take in mending the broken partnership is to remove their skepticism about the capabilities of community colleges to provide relevant education and training. Instead, they should work on understanding the constraints educators face and finding time to address these obstacles.
Although it’s not all employers’ responsibility, they often have leverage in this relationship, as they possess the industry-related insights that would help community colleges develop workforce-ready talent. Employers must share with educators what skills and capacities they look for in candidates and participate in curriculum development.
That leads to creating programs tailored to the latest trends and business needs and requirements. Transparent communication and data-sharing are vital in this partnership, and employers should be the initiators as, ultimately, they’re the ones recruiting graduates.
But employers must also eliminate assumptions about community colleges, such as that their students will prove deficient and inadequate for their companies. By removing low expectations and misguided perceptions from the equation, business leaders will understand how community colleges function, what they’re capable of, and how combined effort can lead to stellar results.
That requires involving senior leadership in the conversation and making collaboration with educators one of their priorities. However, middle management might be the best choice for implementing the initiatives and actions both parties agree upon, as they can establish an actionable definition of a well-rounded curriculum that encompasses foundational and technical skills.