It is no longer a shocking revelation that the partnership between employers and community colleges has been on life support for nearly decades. Their lack of communication, data sharing, and joint efforts has plagued the local talent market and exacerbated the middle-skills gap.
That has led to a situation in which it is challenging to find sufficiently skilled candidates familiar with the latest technologies and business demands. But it has also created an unfavorable environment for fresh graduates and would-be students, as they struggle with finding work that matches their degrees.
All of that has caused community colleges to lose their unyielding position as the natural path from higher education to safe local jobs and decent salaries. Today, young people no longer perceive them as the staple in their career progression and often choose alternative journeys.
Consequences Of Poor Partnership Will Continue To Worsen If No Action Is Taken
If things continue to go this way, it will be even more challenging for community colleges to regain the trust of potential students and be as competitive as before. Moreover, it will be harder for employers to find the talents they need locally, forcing them to outsource, rely on automation, and look in the open talent market.
Because of that, it’s essential to tackle why the collaboration between community colleges and employers isn’t moving forward and what it takes for that to happen.
Where Did Things Go Wrong?
Both employers and educators know they aren’t getting what they need from their collaboration. They understand things need to change, and someone must take the first step because the current situation only threatens to worsen.
But how did it start? Poor communication and misinterpretation of each other’s actions and contribution led to these two parties wanting to put less effort into their collaboration.
Even though employers are not entirely satisfied with the local talent that community colleges produce, they still have a better perception of their actions than educators themselves. For instance, according to The Partnership Imperative report, 47 percent of employers believe that community colleges commit to job guarantees for college graduates, but only 13 percent of educators agree.
However, although educators are not happy with the community colleges’ adequacy of actions in areas such as deploying relevant technology, 59 percent believe they produce high-quality talent. On the flip side, only 36 percent of employers agree with that perception.
Not knowing how the other feels about their input leads to implementing the same strategies and initiatives and getting the same results. Neither educators nor employers understood how the other party perceives their effort and whether it’s helpful for their business.
As a result, their collaboration continued in the same direction for years, leaving both community colleges and businesses dissatisfied with the outcomes. Yet, they’re not the only ones to struggle with the consequences, as their collaboration also impacts the national economy.
The country’s most pressing issues today are the middle-skills gap and the inability to maintain high competitiveness. Hence, it’s vital to track the local talent supply and demand, at least at the local level.
Since this problem affects everyone, the community should invest in identifying the bottlenecks in the local economy once per year.
That allows them to understand who can contribute to tackling this issue and what must be done.
A Problem That Goes Beyond The Connection Between Employers And Educators
Anyone can take the lead in this effort, including community colleges, the local business community, policymakers, the community college leadership, or the community. But the most effective approach would be a collaboration of all these parties, as that opens a path to more well-rounded and efficient strategies.
The following are the crucial questions they should ask when understanding the supply and demand for local talent:
- What are the most important middle-skills positions for the prosperity of local businesses, and which will be the most challenging to fill?
- Are the community colleges (and other relevant skills providers) developing the needed amount of graduates, and are they work-ready?
- If that’s not the case, what can local businesses do to assist in enhancing the curriculum – whether it’s for foundation or technical skills (or both)?
- Are local businesses hesitant to broaden their operations due to worries about the available talent?
But even if the community and policymakers dedicate more attention to local talent supply-demand, a significant change is only possible if community colleges and employers work on improving their connection. They’re the first link in the chain responsible for producing skilled job seekers and providing them with decent jobs.
So far, that hasn’t worked because educators and employers are not on the same page about their expectations from this partnership. They’re also not putting in an equal effort, which is necessary for healthy collaboration and communication.
Yet, one part might be significantly less active in this relationship than the other.
Employers Are Far Less Engaged in Mending the Problem
According to The Partnership Imperative report, the root cause of the unease impacting the talent supply chain is the lack of employer engagement. A rapid technological transformation found its way toward middle-skills occupations in the past couple of decades, and educators could not ignore the weight of changing demand.
However, it was challenging to understand how the demand for middle-skills professions was transforming and how fast. Regardless of the industry, employers were the only ones who had these insights, as they were those who invested in novel tech solutions.
Moreover, business leaders were in a position to understand how these innovations affected skills requirements and job design. Yet, although employers had to adapt their business models to stay competitive, most decided to stick with their old approaches of sourcing candidates instead of interacting with educators.
They also focused much more on tackling the external forces that influence their companies than how new technology affects what happens in their workplaces. One of the best examples is not adjusting their recruiting practices for middle-skills occupations.
That shows that employers didn’t understand the importance of their middle-skills workforce, causing them not to invest sufficiently in their talent management pipeline and employee upskilling. As a result, most still depend on the spot market for new candidates or demand four-year degrees from their middle-skills job applicants.
Only a few employers decided to revisit their existing business models and update their job descriptions. Thus, only a small number of business leaders focused on understanding the abilities that skill providers were developing in future graduates.
No wonder employers rarely invest in developing better, more effective relationships with community colleges or share data on their rapidly changing skills and job requirements. It is also no surprise there’s a mismatch in understanding the need for partnership.
Employers And Educators Don’t See The Need For Establishing Partnership The Same
Despite having a certain level of collaboration with community colleges for decades, employers don’t see the magnitude of the opportunity of establishing a lasting partnership with community colleges. That’s why they have different responses on why partnering up in creating a workforce-ready workforce is vital.
Almost all community colleges consider this partnership an urgent priority, while much fewer business leaders share this opinion. – Ninety-eight percent of educators perceive building a stable connection as urgent, but only 59 percent of employers believe it is very important.
Moreover, educators are much more enthusiastic about how their collaboration has improved over time. For example, 51 percent of community colleges believe that the state of cooperation has become more collaborative in the past three years.
But the report also found something positive – neither of the two parties blames the other. Instead, they recognize that both must put in more effort and that there’s always room for improvement.
Employers were also ready to embrace that they were not so satisfied with their own actions in enhancing the partnership. Yet, many said they still benefit enough from their current collaboration with community colleges.
That explains why 39 percent of employers were satisfied with community colleges’ input in creating a work-ready workforce. However, that’s still relatively low and shows that business leaders are not convinced that higher education institutions can respond to their needs.
Employers and educators also don’t perceive three important collaboration goals the same. – While 83 percent of community colleges believe it’s beyond vital to collaborate with employers to offer training and education that is aligned with industry needs, only 44 percent of business leaders agree.
Moreover, 78 percent of community colleges said it’s beyond important to develop relationships that lead to recruiting and hiring students and graduates, while only 39 percent of employers share that sentiment. The disagreement about the importance of making decisions informed by the latest trends and data is just as stark, as educators believe this is crucial, but much fewer employers agree.
Therefore, the effort that community colleges make can be substantial, but it doesn’t compensate for employers’ lack of engagememt. The latter must start taking the initiative and investing more in nurturing this relationship, as the outcome is equally vital for both parties and the community itself.