College graduation is among the most significant milestones one can reach. It is the pinnacle of the invested effort, hours of studying, and dedication.
And after that comes what most people strive for: a stable and secure job. Community college and university students are no different in these hopes and aspirations.
Both strive to get the most out of the years they spent learning and adopting new skills, perceiving that time as a safe pathway or a shortcut to employment. In an ideal world, a degree, regardless of whether it’s an associate’s or bachelor’s, would help students land a job that aligns with their abilities right quickly after graduating.
Entering the Workforce Is Not As Easy For Community College Students As It Should Be
Although studying has numerous benefits, getting ready to join the workforce is likely at the top of the pyramid. But this is not a realm where everything fits perfectly together, and everyone has an equal starting point and opportunity.
According to The Partnership Imperative: Community Colleges, Employers, and America’s Chronic Skills Gap report, many employers don’t think community college students are workforce-ready, exacerbating the challenge of filling middle-skills jobs. They are conflicted about whether these graduates possess the necessary fundamental and technical abilities, discouraging them from hiring these candidates instead of turning to open-market recruitment.
That impacts the nation’s performance, competitiveness, and standard of living in the long haul. However, the lack of an effective and consistent relationship between community colleges and employers makes it harder for things to turn around.
A Broken Connection Between Community Colleges And Employers Despite The Need For A Lasting Partnership
A successful shift to a greener economy could create 24 million new jobs globally by 2030, many of them middle-skills. The expected growth rate for associate’s degrees is 35.4 percent and 68.2 percent for postsecondary non-degrees.
That undoubtedly shows that roles requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree are essential for the economy’s and society’s uninterrupted continuity and growth. Thus, these jobs should be sufficient to provide a middle-class living and guarantee a secure future for community college students.
But again, we don’t live in an ideal world, and it’s necessary to start implementing effective changes today to ensure these projections can turn into a reality. One of the main issues is the mismatch between jobs and workforce education levels.
The highest discrepancy is present in middle-skills jobs, as students with associate’s degrees lack adequate skills training more than others. This gap has persistently plagued the workforce for over a decade, making it difficult for employers to fill such roles.
Many factors contribute to this issue and continuously aggravate it. Baby boomers are retiring from middle-skills occupations, but young people aren’t as eager to replace them and enroll in community colleges.
It would be wrong and naive to mark their lack of eagerness as anything else but a realization they likely won’t get the same opportunities and salaries as those with university credentials. A four-year degree is consistently pushed as the best way toward success and a well-paying career.
In the minds of high-school graduates, that can create a perception that middle-skills jobs aren’t as valuable and secure. But students’ reluctance to choose community colleges isn’t a cause of the middle-skills gap but a consequence.
How Employers And Educators Aggravate The Problem By Not Having A Steady Partnership?
The actual reasons are much more severe and challenging to tackle. A broken relationship between community colleges and employers is among the crucial roots of the problem.
Employers increasingly believe that these graduates don’t have what it takes to fill job openings in their companies. They want community colleges to establish programs that directly align with their business needs but aren’t willing to communicate their expectations and bottlenecks.
Moreover, many employers expect job seekers and employees to pick up new skills and tech competencies informally instead of investing in community colleges and reskilling and upskilling. Their lack of initiative and waiting for educators to mend the fractured connection pushes the solution further away.
On the flip side, educators have a passive approach and don’t push employers to participate more actively and share insights with them. That maintains the status quo and leaves no chance for community colleges to progress and offer better programs for the students.
As a result, high school graduates often don’t perceive community colleges and middle-skills jobs as the most attractive option, and when they do, they struggle upon completion. But as the world recovers from the pandemic and faces an impending economic stress test, America’s middle-skills gap needs a closure more than ever.
That makes the partnership between employers and educators vital. And even though both should participate equally and contribute to finding solutions, educators can nudge businesses and push them to perceive community colleges as excellent partners.
Here’s how they can achieve that.
How Educators Can Motivate Employers To Build A More Consistent Partnership
1. Acknowledge Their Role In The Partnership
Employers’ lack of willingness to collaborate with community colleges and invest in them can be discouraging for educators and cause them to see no point in considering them partners. But students and future employees suffer the most due to the lackluster community college-employer relationship.
It is among educators’ duties to stand up for students and do what’s best for them. That includes not giving up no developing a consistent connection with business, even though it’s a demanding task.
But another difficulty stopping educators from taking the initiative is the seeming power imbalance. As employers, businesses typically have leverage and decide whether to invest in a partnership and hire community college students.
However, educators have more power than they think. They can show that community colleges are a worthy bet and that the more they invest, the better the return.
A firm and resolute approach can nudge employers to rediscover how much they can benefit from this collaboration. It can also trigger the initial spark needed to bridge the educator-employee gap.
2. Set Clear And Realistic Goals
A resolute approach requires a strategic plan that backs it up. After educators determine their role in the partnership, they should consider the objectives they want to accomplish, and the role employers play in it.
For instance, they might have a specific program in mind and businesses suitable for later employing middle-skill workers.
Or they might want to run a market and industry analysis first and identify what companies align with their syllabus and course offerings. Many community colleges already have multiple partnerships that must be revived, requiring reaching out to the representatives and suggesting new initiatives and projects.
Regardless of the goal, educators should be clear about what they expect from employers before approaching them. Without clarity and well-defined rhetoric and targets, they won’t be persuasive or sound confident.
3. Foster Transparent And Continuous Communication
Honest and open communication is just as significant as firmness and determination. That helps set clear expectations and encourages employers to do the same.
Although it’s recommended to maintain a friendly tone, educators should nudge the other party to foster the same level of transparency and mutual respect. That helps break the status quo and nurture ongoing communication that leads to visible results and solutions.
4. Engage Employers To Work Closely With Community Colleges
The safest way to consistently engage employers and get them to commit to collaboration is to create space for their participation. For instance, educators can invite employers to participate in curriculum design and industry advisory boards actively.
They can work together on creating courses for the company’s employees and introducing upskilling and reskilling opportunities. Besides, both parties can work on developing E-learning options and expanding content accessibility and flexibility.
5. Offer Customized Programs
Most employers want to hire graduates who finished programs tailored to their business needs. But that’s only possible with an open and equal partnership where both parties work to address the bottlenecks and expectations of the other.
Educators can take the initiative by inviting employers to regular meetings and nudging them to communicate what courses fit their departments and tech infrastructure. Thanks to that, they can develop customized programs that benefit community colleges, businesses, students, and the community.
6. Assign Individuals Or Teams To Manage Community College-Employer Partnerships
It is best to have trained professionals representing both parties and ensuring regular communication and effective work. Educators can select relevant teams or individuals to manage this partnership and track the progress and impact of every initiative.
7. Turn Words And Promises Into Action
One of the most critical elements of every successful partnership is setting timeframes for every agreement and project and identifying and compiling the necessary tools, tech infrastructure, and personnel. That helps ensure that words turn into action and that each party completes their part of the job, contributing to mutual goals and missions.
Collaboration is a two-sided street, and both parties must participate to ensure its longevity and success. That includes the community college-employer connection, but the latter typically expects educators to take the initiative.
Although educators shouldn’t be the only ones to push for greater engagement of businesses, they can set an example and make the first step toward establishing a long-lasting relationship. Open communication, clarity, persuasion, and well-defined goals and expectations are crucial in approaching employers and encouraging greater participation.
But after the initial step, employers should make the same effort and actively work on maintaining a resilient partnership and providing the best education and experience for students and middle-skills workers.