Addressing the changing workforce

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Exactly a year ago in this very column, I focused on the increased interest in community colleges and their ability to create and sustain the workforce education programs that are vital to the employment pipeline in their community. That interest has not waned. In fact, more than ever, workforce development is a topic of conversation across the nation.

Here in Washington, most people can agree that it is critical to prepare the next generation of workers for the next generation of jobs. How ready are you to adapt to an ever-changing labor landscape?

This article comes from the new issue of AACC’s Community College Journal.

The job market already looks radically different than it did just 10 short years ago. The sharing and gig economies that we experience today portend that the future of work will change and evolve along with the skills needed for success. It is critical to realize that these skills may differ from what we learned yesterday and what we teach today.

Gen Z is bound to consume education differently than the students before them. They may look to enhance skills and knowledge for short-term benefits rather than commit to years-long study plans. I believe that they will redefine the life-long learning that we speak of today and truly embrace skill building and portable credentials.

Prepared for the challenge

The good news is that through the myriad of workforce programs and partners, community colleges are actively engaged in building this network for the next generation of student. According to Inc. Magazine, 61 percent of Generation Z say they prefer to be entrepreneurs rather than employees, and 76 percent believe that the skills needed for today’s workforce are different. Regardless of how we feel about it, we must understand their perspectives and prepare for the next generation of student.

I think that one of the keys to the success will be the ability of our sector to effectively partner with others. Working across sectors and curriculums to identify best and promising practices for current and future students will allow colleges to realize sustained positive change in the employment pipeline. Community colleges have been a key partner in workforce development and will continue to be the nexus between education and work for many Americans.

We continue to provide students with opportunities to learn skills that will allow them to obtain a job that pays a family-sustaining wage. We also work with businesses and agencies in the local community to provide the education and training needed for a skilled workforce. That is where conversations about the future of work and the future student need to happen.

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating, that workforce development is local. The local employment pipeline will be impacted by the anticipated changes in technology, robotics and automation. Our colleges will be impacted by the way in which students choose to obtain the skills needed to be an effective part of the local economy and job market. The only way to address the needs of the students and the workforce is to continue to work together to build upon current successes.

At the American Association of Community Colleges, we will continue the conversations at the policy level and remain vigilant in our efforts to advocate for the resources that community colleges need to continue to advance the nation’s workforce development.

About the Author

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