Despite being essential for developing skilled students and contributing to America’s workforce, the partnership between community colleges and employers is below the needed level. Their collaboration has been consistently deteriorating over time, reaching the point of not being enough to meet the nation’s need to provide aspiring employees with the knowledge and capabilities necessary to fill crucial middle-skills jobs.
Moreover, it is inadequate to tackle today’s extensive decline in quality of life and living standards, impacting many citizens without four-year university degrees. Although it’s a grave issue, it’s been plaguing America for decades, and not much has been done to this day.
Middle-skills gap still prevents healthy competitiveness and means that these workers face more challenges than automation. The demographic shift shows that community colleges and employers are unable to attract enough young people to pursue these jobs, and older generations are retiring, leaving these roles unfilled.
If things remain the same, the nation won’t have enough workers to respond to the economy’s diverse needs and help civic life thrive. But for the community college-employer relationship to recover and ensure students receive quality education and job opportunities, we must first dive deeper into what causes its rupture.
The Crucial 9 Factors Undermining Community College-Employer Relationships
The Decades-Long Lack Of Collaboration Became A Tradition
Broken collaboration between community colleges and employers is not a novelty. It’s been hindering middle-skills recruitment and jobs for decades, and it has become the new normal.
However, when both parties get accustomed to a particular way of doing things, it’s challenging to implement a drastic and lasting change. Establishing an ongoing, effective, and proactive partnership will take time, effort, and changing approaches and habits of both parties.
2. Polarizing Expectations
One of the main factors continuously undermining the partnership between community colleges and employers is their different expectations, resulting in dissatisfactory outcomes. Educators struggle to provide businesses with workforce-ready candidates due to a lack of resources, customized programs, and tech infrastructure.
On the flip side, employers don’t communicate with community colleges what their companies need nor offer help with achieving it. Hence, educators want greater employer support and involvement, while businesses expect the other party to be the initiators and create programs tailored to their needs.
3. Lack Of Agreement On The Three Foundational Goals Of Collaboration
Three foundational objectives enable smooth and long-term collaboration, but employers and educators don’t have the same opinion regarding this topic. These three goals are collaborating to offer education and training that aligns with industry needs, establishing connections that result in hiring graduates and students, and making decisions informed by the latest trends and data.
However, educators agree that all three targets are of paramount importance, while employers have mostly ambivalent opinions, and some disagree that these are important. But until they are on the same page, maintaining lasting and productive partnerships won’t be possible.
4. Employers Significantly Less Engaged And Convinced Collaboration Is Extremely Important
Educators have been putting more effort into engaging employers and getting them to understand the benefits and value they get from mutual collaboration. However, so far, their actions haven’t lead to positive outcomes due to businesses not being as interested in participating and brainstorming activities and initiatives to maintain a thriving collaboration.
They are disengaged and focused on approaches that might bring them more direct value. Yet, the responsibility of engagement shouldn’t only be on educators. Until employers show interest in understanding the full scope of advantages they get from partnerships with community colleges, most educators’ attempts will be unsuccessful.
5. Educators Don’t Take The Initiative Adequately
According to The Partnership Imperative: Community Colleges, Employers, and America’s Chronic Skills Gap report, educators shared that they take specific actions to improve collaboration with employers. Yet, they weren’t confident that those initiatives were enough to grow work-ready graduates. Indeed, most of their efforts are toward educating students, but they aren’t equally engaged in student placement.
Educators are typically focused on outcome metrics such as graduation rate but tend to disregard commitment to recruitment targets for graduates and job guarantees. On the other hand, they said they were satisfied with their actions toward teaching students technical skills and encouraging employers to participate in advisory boards.
6. Lack Of Effort To Co-Design Programs Together
Both parties must understand the constraints of the other and address them in their programs. For instance, employers often lack sympathy for students’ struggles and needs, resulting in not offering schedules that are convenient for employers and learners.
On the flip side, community colleges have no mechanisms in place that would credit their students’ current and past work experiences. However, they said employers also don’t do enough to create programs to help their existing workers upgrade their abilities and skills.
7. Lack Of Commitment To Developing A Work-Ready Workforce
The Partnership Imperative report found that employers are typically more passionate than educators about growing a work-ready workforce. However, they lack commitment and proper actions toward taking specific action to make it happen.
In fact, there was not a single action or initiative that more than 60 percent of businesses implemented. They were also not invested in tracking data related to employees who attended community colleges or helping educators offer counseling to students to enroll in courses with the highest labor market demand.
8. Inadequate Efforts To Establish Processes That Enables Recruiting From Community Colleges
Hiring from community colleges requires specific actions and processes. Still, a seamless talent flow is currently weak or non-existent, showing that employers and community colleges lack mechanisms to enable it.
Less than 30 percent of employers and educators invested in developing standard procedures, aligning recruitment calendars, and deploying technology that ensures smooth communication. Thus, most community college leaders agreed that employers aren’t doing enough to market the available middle-skills jobs locally and attract students and graduates.
9. Lack Of Data-Sharing
Neither employers nor community colleges use data to support their partnership, even though it’s vital they have a mutual understanding of the local demand patterns, skills gaps, and demographics. For example, community colleges rarely implement surveys to track students’ experiences with local employers and businesses, which creates feedback gaps and an inability to develop a more work-ready workforce.
Besides, neither community colleges nor employers encourage sharing data, which could help improve their partnership and experience for employees and students.
Here’s how they can address factors undermining their collaboration and ensure better outcomes for both parties.
How To Bridge the Employer-Educator Gap
The following are the three most efficient ways to address factors undermining the community college-employer partnership and remove the persistent gap between them.
Create Education And Training That Aligns With The Industry’s Needs
Employers and educators must collaborate on co-creating relevant college curriculum and introducing continuous evaluations and updates. These should focus on foundational and technical abilities and skills depending on industry needs but also align with the hiring cycles and students’ ambitions, struggles, and lives.
And while employers should help employees upgrade their capabilities, educators should assist students in obtaining professional licenses and up-to-date knowledge. Moreover, community colleges should develop programs and implement classroom experiences that effectively real-world scenarios, settings, and circumstances.
Develop Connections That Lead To The Hiring Of Students And Graduates
The ultimate objective of the employer-educator partnership should be hiring students and graduates and driving a productive and efficient middle-skills workforce. Because of that, they should both choose staff to manage this relationship and develop a consistent connection between faculties and recruiters.
Moreover, community college leaders and employers should set processes and deploy tech that enables seamless communication and recruitment of college students and graduates. That requires establishing policies, initiatives, complementary calendars, marketing campaigns, and standard hiring procedures.
They should both commit to fostering these processes and establishing hiring targets and job guarantees. Employers can also consider scholarship programs for these students and remember to post job openings on community college and academic department job boards.
Use The Latest Trends And Data To Drive Decision-Making
Data sharing plays a significant role in maintaining a successful partnership, which is why employers and educators should commit to compiling and sharing information about the local talent supply. That includes surveying businesses on their workforce needs and tracking retention rates of workers who attended community colleges.
Employers and educators should monitor the job and salary growth in the industry, as well as job market-related fluctuations and changes. Finally, they should develop mechanisms to track and enhance together talent supply and demand.
The relationship between employers and community colleges has been strained for decades, resulting in a lack of communication, joint work, and effective results. Over time, that approach has become tradition, which makes it more challenging to take the initiative and reboot.
But despite their disagreements and failed expectations, community colleges and employers can start anew and collaborate more efficiently on creating a work-ready workforce.
However, both parties will have to commit to putting in an equal amount of effort and acting upon their plans and strategies. Joint activities and diligence can curb factors sabotaging their partnership and generate better outcomes for everyone involved.