The Gap Between Employers’ Expectations And Community College Work-Ready Pipeline

The Gap Between Employers' Expectations and Community College Work-Ready Pipeline
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    The world of work has undergone dramatic changes and disruptive trends in the past few decades. But no other period has been as transformative as the pandemic era. 

    Lockdowns barred face-to-face work, made remote workers the majority, and accelerated technology that enables telework and online recruitment. Although safely behind us, 2022 remained faithful to shaking things up and disrupting the way we work and hire. 

    Younger Millennials and Gen Z gave a new name (The Quiet Quitting) to an old idea – doing what you’re paid for and not going the extra mile for an employer. On the flip side, the recession and lack of skilled talent forced employers to commit to boosting employee productivity and weeding out low performers. 

    Automation, Middle-Skills Jobs, And Community College Students

    Meanwhile, automation has become more palpable as the COVID-19 crisis reinforced tech evolution. Today, most businesses use AI and machine learning to at least some extent (e.g., email marketing, recruitment software, searching leads).

    But that acceleration is more evident in middle-skills positions than in any other. According to Bruegel, AI will significantly alter these jobs, automating many manual tasks but also creating new ones. 

    Although that should create an opportunity for community college students to join the workforce, employers and educators are failing to establish a solid pipeline of employees to maintain the U.S. economy thriving and competitive. 

    Here’s why. 

    Employers Don’t Perceive Community College Students As Workforce-Ready

    Traditionally, community colleges were the source of America’s middle-skills workforce. Every student has passed through this education portal, allowing them to find adequate opportunities quickly after finishing their studies. 

    But this ecosystem is hindered due to the imbalance in expectations between employers and educators. Neither party has been sufficiently successful in meeting one of today’s greatest challenges – growing talents that can drive the economy and produce solid results. 

    According to employers, the available talent pool doesn’t meet their requirements and needs. Their complaints include not being able to find enough diversity, quality, and quantity to address their business objectives.

    But are employers’ expectations entirely realistic, and are they doing enough to close the middle-skills gap? – The pandemic forced most businesses to be more flexible, resulting in a reset of degree requirements in a wide variety of roles.  

    The change was more apparent in positions that necessitated some post-secondary training or education yet less than a four-year degree. Since the demand for compatible candidates exceeds the supply, many employers decided to reduce their degree requirements, which might only be temporary. 

    Even during the pandemic, 37 percent of businesses maintained the same demands and expectations for middle-skill positions, barring around 15.7 million people out of the job applicant pool. However, this is likely not a structural reset but a response to an emergency, which reflects in employers’ perspective on community college students.  

    They don’t view them as workforce-ready and suited to perform more intricate technology-driven assignments needed for middle-skills positions. Indeed, most community college graduates discover that their foundational and technical abilities don’t match the non-negotiable skills for jobs they aspire to have after graduating. 

    That leads to crucial middle-skills positions staying vacant, customers being dissatisfied, and revenues and profit being lost. Moreover, employees must work extra hours to compensate for the mounting costs, resulting in lower morale and increased turnover. 

    However, educators have a hard time engaging employers and getting relevant information on what impacts the change and requirements for elementary and technical abilities necessary for middle-skills positions. They also struggle with reaching and hiring qualified faculty members and advisors who would work at community colleges, as well as with obtaining relevant software licenses and modern equipment. 

    As a result, experiential learning and real-life practice are rarely accessible to community college students besides being unpaid. It also creates a volatile middle-skills environment that fails to serve the needs of enthusiastic employees but also employers and, ultimately, the community. 

    But the gap between what employers need and what educators can offer is, to a large extent, responsible for this disequilibrium. Here’s what, according to The Partnership Imperative: Community Colleges, Employers, and America’s Chronic Skills Gap report, causes it.   

    What Causes the Gap Between Employers’ Expectations And Community College Work-Ready Pipeline

    1. Lack Of Collaboration Between Educators And Employers

    A significant number of community college leaders are disappointed with their collaboration with employers. Yet, employers are often unaware of that dissatisfaction and consider themselves excellent collaborators. 

    Although educators strive to grow workforce-ready students and remove the knowledge gap, their efforts don’t align with employers’ expectations. But that shouldn’t be a surprise concerning the lack of communication between these two parties, leading to constraints and missed opportunities. 

    Despite traditionally being the principal workforce suppliers to regional and local companies, community colleges are not succeeding in nudging employers to help them provide adequate service. Thus, only a few employers openly set recruiting targets or offer job guarantees to fresh graduates. 

    2. Employers Primarily Interested In Programs Directly Connected To Their Specific Needs

    Unsurprisingly, employers want to hire graduates who finished programs tightly associated with their specific business needs and mission. But although that is understandable, it’s not easily achievable in reality. 

    For that to happen, employers would have to share their expectations, requirements, and bottlenecks with community colleges, clarify what kind of courses would efficiently address their demands, and help with program creation, facilitation, and funding. Without ongoing and effective collaboration, that’s hardly accomplishable

    3. Employers aren’t engaged sufficiently

    Both parties’ equal commitment, dedication, and engagement are necessary to build a robust middle-skills workforce pipeline. But educators are not receiving a sufficient response from employers, which affects their performance materially. 

    After decades of often one-sided collaboration, educators have reconciled with ambivalent engagement and low expectations from businesses. That places most of the pressure on community colleges, leaving them to determine strategies, initiatives, and programs alone and without a clue on how to address employers’ needs.

    Even though their collaboration list typically includes over 40 actions, employers are the least likely to tackle the ones associated with graduate job placement. On the flip side, educators have grown accustomed to this approach, which is why they consistently give businesses credit for small efforts and modest actions. 

    But without demanding more and asking for greater commitment, things remain the same, leading to students being collateral damage. 

    4. Employers Don’t See America’s Community Colleges As the Most Efficient Approach To Obtain Middle-Skills Talent

    One of the most challenging causes of poor collaboration between employers and educators is that the former doesn’t perceive community colleges as the most effective source of reaching middle-skills talents. Only 26 percent believe that community colleges develop talents that correspond to their business needs and are ready to work. 

    Yet, that approach creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most employers expect a small return on their investment in collaboration with college communities, causing them to minimize it. But naturally, that leads to a marginal ROI, deepening the gap between their expectations and community college programs. 

    Since students increasingly question whether there’s a point in pursuing post-secondary degrees and they aspire to work in fairly paid positions, a tight labor market leaves employers in an uneasy situation. But instead of working more closely with community colleges to grow relevant and in-demand abilities in graduates, they invest in novel technologies that aggravate skills gaps. 

    5. Employers Expect Educators To Be The Initiators

    Employers are aware that equal engagement of both parties is necessary for creating a future-ready workforce and maintaining productive collaboration. However, they expect educators to take the initiative in bridging the gaps in expectations, disregarding the subtle power imbalance between them. 

    Businesses have leverage in being in a better position to monitor and assess continuously changing skills demands in their industry, making them responsible for sharing these insights to get the best outcome. But lack of investment in collaboration with community colleagues is often a product of their belief that they can find skilled talent in the open market. 

    Conversely, employers tend to believe that partnering with educators is more complex and less efficient. That causes them to rarely be transparent in sharing their hiring needs with community colleges. 

    6. Businesses Believe That Community Colleges Don’t Implement Curriculum Changes

    Over 43 percent of employers believe community colleges resist curriculum changes and updates. But the latter typically lack mechanisms, culture, and mandate to implement these transformations and address business requirements and needs. 

    On the other hand, employers are rarely aware of the challenges educators face and that tracking and keeping up with emerging technologies is more demanding for them. 

    7. Continuous Requirements On Employers’ Part Without Offering Helpful Resources

    Since the labor market and technology fluctuations are consistent, businesses must continuously have new demands and expectations from community colleges regarding what graduates should have to be a qualified workforce. Yet, they are seldom willing to provide educators with helpful resources and support to stay ahead of ongoing tech developments. 

    Employers usually have immediate requirements that community colleges have no time or tools to comply with fast enough, nudging businesses to hunt candidates in the open labor market. Moreover, 47 percent believe that’s more cost-effective than training students and preparing them to be the workforce they need, resulting in a lack of workforce-ready graduates. 

    Closing Thoughts

    The gap between employers’ expectations and community college programs impacts the economy and its resilience, but the factors causing it are challenging to address. One party is unwilling to communicate its needs and requirements, while the other is accustomed to not pushing for a more significant engagement. 

    But more issues lay beneath the surface, consistently deepening the gap and threatening to turn it into an abyss. Open, transparent, and continuous collaboration and communication are the only way to solve this problem long-term. 

    Still, it requires an equal willingness to make it happen from both educators and employers. However, it’s more than possible if they commit to understanding each other’s point of view, position, demands, and difficulties and seeking a mutual way to solve these issues. 

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