How Can Community Colleges And Employers Reboot Their Partnership And Create America’s Future Workforce

How can community colleges and employers reboot their partnership and create americas future workforce
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    Decades of not communicating adequately and nurturing a consistent and robust collaboration have strained the relationships between community colleges and employers. For a long time, the mismatched expectations, wrong perceptions, and lack of desire to take the initiative on both sides have helped the status quo settle in and become the norm. 

    According to The Partnership Imperative report, many businesses and even more community college leaders and educators know that their joint initiatives and effort are insufficient to maintain a thriving connection or develop a work-ready workforce. But the awareness itself doesn’t hold enough weight to move the needle. 

    When There’s No Will, There Are No Results

    Neither employers nor educators actively work on building a robust partnership that results in skilled and well-prepared students and graduates and safe employment in middle-skill jobs. Instead, both parties claim they’re the side that puts more effort into this collaboration and developing future America’s employees. 

    However, the report shows that educators likely have more right to claim that employers put minimal work into their partnership and graduates while getting more credit and recognition for their part. Indeed, only a small number of business leaders are genuinely interested in consistently implementing new initiatives and sharing information. At the same time, most are relatively comfortable with community colleges taking the first step to change things. 

    Yet, these conflicting expectations and behaviors only harm future and current graduates and their prospects for working in middle-skills jobs and earning a fair salary. Since the partnership between employers and educators has been damaged for a long time, affecting its foundations, the only solution is to reboot it. But is that possible?

    How Broken Is The Syndicate Between Educators And Businesses?

    The relationship between these two parties hasn’t been working for a long time due to a lack of adequate efforts, initiatives, strategies, and joint actions. That has become the regular and expected dimension of the community college-employer connection, lulling them into passivity and borderline resignation. 

    Although both are aware more should be done and that their current collaboration isn’t sufficient to feed America’s increasing need for a middle-skills workforce, neither party is prepared to take the initiative and actively work on maintaining a healthy partnership. For instance, employers must take the lead in clarifying what competencies and skills are in-demand in their industry. That would allow educators to adjust their programs and orient future students in the right direction. 

    Community college leaders also believe there’s a disparity between what employers offer and what employees need. Because of that, they complain that the current middle-skills workforce isn’t receiving relevant training to upskill and stay competitive and capable of high performance. 

    But if employers aren’t doing enough for their existing staff, is it even possible to expect them to engage more in helping community colleges develop skilled graduates? Hence, it’s evident that although educators are more willing to make this partnership happen, neither they nor employers are ready to come up with actionable strategies and tailored solutions. 

    That raises a pressing question – what is the root of the problem, and how deeply has that issue damaged their relationship? Even though the precise reason for their disconnection is unclear, inertia seems to be the one exacerbating it. 

    Employers often believe that community college graduates are only the alternative to hiring candidates from the open market but not the first choice. A large part is also confident that they do enough to provide opportunities for these students and collaborate with community colleges, leaving them with expectations that graduates should be more prepared and possess skills tailored to their industry. 

    When that doesn’t happen to be the case, employers often don’t dwell too much into it and, instead, find adequate candidates elsewhere. Thus, they hope community colleges will reach out to them with solutions and clear suggestions for developing more workforce-ready students. 

    On the flip side, employers have low expectations from community colleges (which coincides with quickly resorting to recruiting from the open labor market) and readily tick off boxes when those expectations are met. That explains why most of their discussions and meetings are neither specific nor detailed, resulting in a lack of data-tracking, data-sharing, and exchanging insights. 

    Finally, employers are not committed to hiring community college graduates and offer no job guarantees, which speaks of a highly impaired partnership. Educators are also not dedicated enough to track the success of their graduates working in middle-skills jobs, request feedback from businesses, and demand a more solid engagement. 

    Students suffer the most in that situation, leading to disappointment and regrets about choosing higher education. Because of that, community colleges and employers must reboot their partnership and do better for their graduates, employees, and overall workforce. 

    What Can Both Parties Do To Reboot Their Relationship?

    The situation varies depending on the size, industry, location, and type of each community college and business. Still, some of the elementary principles apply to all of them and can help reboot their partnership. 

    Before everything, both parties must understand they have a common goal: developing an effective and skilled talent pipeline. That allows local employers to find compatible workers and ensure graduates have fair and safe opportunities that lead to a decent life and competitive salary. 

    Moreover, improving this partnership and creating opportunities for future students helps community colleges increase enrollment rates, attract ambitious students, and develop highly reputable and attractive programs. Until educators and employers don’t understand how joint efforts benefit them long-term, they will likely put off investing in rebuilding this collaboration.

    The next step is establishing clear and actionable plans and strategies that drive this partnership and pushing each action toward practical outcomes. For instance, community colleges and employers must work together on co-designing tailored programs, sharing data, creating post-graduation job guarantees, and establishing standard operating procedures. 

    But it’s just as vital to use adequate tools and platforms to track their efforts and progress. Both parties must have up-to-date data and insights on how much they have moved from the first plans and whether they equally contribute to this collaboration. 

    That includes developing a list of actions they can benchmark against shared metrics and measure their own effort and performance. Moreover, community colleges and employers must invest in adequate resources and personnel to help sustain a solid, productive, and effective relationship. 

    It’s crucial not to disregard the importance of implementing technology that accommodates their joint programs and plans, streamlines their communication, and compiles data. Educators and employers must put the same effort into creating syllabuses and programs that align with the industry’s and job market’s needs and promoting attractive vacancies and associated learning and career pathways. 

    But none of these actions will work without collecting and assessing data on present, and emerging capability and skills requirements and the lived experiences of students and recent graduates. These insights should be shared and analyzed in regular meetings and gatherings, ensuring timely and consistent communication and shared initiatives. 

    How close are most community colleges and employers to that future now?

    How Far Are Community Colleges And Employers From Rebuilding Their Partnership In 2023?

    Even though the relationship between community colleges and employers has been improving in the past three years, it’s still far from the level needed to be stable and productive. For instance, many community colleges had some of the lowest enrollment rates in the fall of 2021 compared to the previous years. 

    On the other hand, companies struggle with a tight middle-skills talent shortage and delivering their services and goods to consumers. Lack of skilled labor prevents multiple industries, especially hospitality, from meeting the demand and working uninterruptedly. 

    Warehouses must delay shipments, airlines must cancel flights, and healthcare services can attend to the patients the same way they would if they had sufficient staff. The situation is not much better for students and recent graduates. 

    Young people with community college certificates and degrees are often regarded as unqualified or unemployable for jobs in their field. And even though the damaged partnership between educators and employers is not the only cause of this problem, it is among the most significant.

    Since insufficient communication is a decades-old issue, the gap between the demand for middle-skills qualified talents and supply continues to increase. The dissonance at the fundamental level shows that although 84 percent of employers acknowledge hiring from community colleges, they lack an understanding of the full potential of these educational institutions and their students.  

    Hence, there must be a genuine comprehension of the possibilities and obstacles each party encounters, including young people, to eliminate the elementary discord hindering this partnership. They must work on addressing the mismatch in expectations and enhancing the current system, as both educators and employers know it suffers from many shortcomings. 

    Closing Thoughts

    Employers rarely understand the magnitude of possibilities a partnership with community college offers. On the flip side, educators amplify employers’ efforts and acknowledge every input as more significant than it is while being aware they’re more interested in building a solid collaboration than the other party.

    Their communication requires a complete reboot, building stable foundations, and agreeing on the shared goals, as well as strategies they’ll use to track and achieve them.

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