Registered and recognized apprenticeships, certifications, workforce education, tech ed — whatever you call it, community colleges are at the heart of the growing focus on workforce programs and services.
As community college leaders, we know that our sector has been key to providing students with opportunities to obtain skills that are needed for jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. We have done so for decades. But, increasingly, higher education is being looked at through the lens of employability.
In particular, many of the legislators here in Washington, D.C., are focused on increasing the number of trained workers in the United States in order to address a gap that exists between the needs of business and industry and the skills of potential employees.
In October, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that there were 7 million job openings in the country. For us, that means continuing the development of partnerships with other national leaders including those in government, business, philanthropy and industry. For you, it means that there is still a great need to develop the programs and services that bridge the skills gap that may exist in your local economy.
The truth is, I don’t see the focus on workforce development as fleeting. And you know as well as I do that these types of workforce education programs are essential to the makeup of most community colleges. You’re already doing this and so much more. With declining enrollments, shrinking budgets and multiple priorities, how can you stretch even further?
It may be easier than you think to use what you already have. There is no need to recreate the wheel when your current programs can serve as a roadmap to more success. Ask yourself what is working well and what does that structure look like? Is there an administrator or faculty member who is passionate about expanding access or creating a program? Is there a foundation board member who works in a local industry that is struggling to find well-trained employees?
Engage these leaders to serve as models to others that may be able to help advance programs or partnerships. By doing so, you can better distribute the workload while providing valuable experience for the next generation of community college leaders.
Talk about a win-win. These opportunities can benefit students, the community, faculty and staff and you as you navigate the multiple needs and priorities of your organization.
At the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), we are able to shine a spotlight on the regional programs and services that keep Americans working and to position the nation’s community colleges as the provider of choice for workforce education. We can continue to do that because of your efforts and know that you continue to build and nurture pathways to well-paying jobs that fulfill the needs of your local businesses and communities.
Like politics, all workforce development is local, and we know that you are doing your part to ensure that your community benefits from your programs. At AACC, we will continue to advocate for policies and funding that recognize the continued leadership of our member colleges in workforce education initiatives. We will work together with policymakers to ensure that community colleges remain in the forefront of discussions pertaining to worker training and work together with them to proactively develop strategies that enhance your abilities to educate workers.