Shining a spotlight on workforce education

U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta last summer visited Ford Motor Company apprentices and discussed their opportunity to “learn & earn,” while being exposed to a variety of careers in auto industry. (Photo: U.S. Department of Labor)

More than ever, the community college president’s attention can be split between internal and external forces.

Shifting national and local policies, changing societal issues and/or the need to be responsive to evolving technology are just a few of the many sources of input a community college president must respond to in the course of a day. In particular, the growing interest in apprenticeships is a direct reflection of the Trump administration’s focus on increasing the number of skilled workers in the United States. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that there were 6.2 million job openings in the country.

Our colleges provide workforce education to millions of students each year and are the provider of choice for many businesses that are in need of workers. You know as well as I do that these types of workforce education programs are essential to the makeup of most community colleges.

At the American Association of Community Colleges, we are proud to represent community colleges in discussions regarding apprenticeships and increasing the number of workers who have the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the modern American workforce. We know that millions of students enroll and complete career and technical education programs at their local community colleges and it is apparent that we are no longer the “best kept secret” in higher education.

Leveraging opportunities

I am proud to serve on the President’s Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion. It is critical that our sector has a significant role in leading the efforts toward closing the employment gap. I see this as a great opportunity to not only spotlight the great work of our colleges, but to also position community colleges as the provider of choice for workforce education.

As a leader, you have opportunities to shine the spotlight on your regional programs and services that effectively provide workforce education and industry training. Partnerships with business are fundamental to the success of many community college workforce development programs. Local business leaders likely serve on advisory or foundation boards. In many cases, local companies provide funding and equipment to community college programs. And for those of you working on constructing clearer pathways for students at your institution, you know that those pathways also are vital in helping to close the skills gap in your community.

How prepared are you to be a partner? Do you have that all-important elevator speech ready? Can you speak succinctly and confidently about the capabilities you possess to develop and implement programs that lead to jobs? Are you able to share facts about program successes? About community needs? And, most importantly, are you able to quantify the reasons that your college should be the partner of choice to help close the local employment gap?

Staying in sync

Working with the business sector to develop a strategic workforce development plan is a journey, not a destination. The breadth of community college workforce programs is enormous and ever-changing and should evolve as it keeps up with the demands of today’s (and tomorrow’s) workforce. These programs often allow students to prepare for third-party credentials such as industry certifications, state licenses and apprenticeship certificates. Share that story. Be prepared to drop facts about the pathways your college provides to well-paying jobs that fulfill the needs of your local businesses.

I, for one, am glad that the “best kept secret” in higher education is no longer a secret and that policy professionals recognize the role of the community college is key to the success of any workforce development programs. We will continue to work hard to share the story of these programs in Washington, D.C., and to proactively develop strategies that enhance our abilities to educate workers so that they learn the skills that will help them succeed.

This article comes from the current issue of the American Association of Community Colleges’ Community College Journal.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.