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Creating business partnerships that work

Martin Scaglione

​Finally—community colleges are getting the respect they deserve for all the right reasons. It’s about time. Elevated by this newfound status and given the gradual recovery of our nation’s economy, it’s time to consider even more creative ways to reach out to the business community. I believe there is a way to create sustainable partnerships that work for everyone.

One of the many strengths of our nation’s more than 1,100 community and technical colleges is the ability to respond to changing demands in the workplace. This agility is priceless as colleges adjust to the vagaries of the economy and government funding, advances in technology and the demanding workplace skill sets necessary for success. I don’t believe America has ever faced the velocity of change that is present today.

The problem

So what’s wrong with this picture?

  • Fact: The nation continues to face high unemployment.
  • Fact: Individuals worldwide prioritize “a good job” as their No. 1 desire (according to the Gallup World Poll).
  • Fact: Employers struggle to find the right people—with the right skills—to fill open positions.

Why is there such a disconnect among those three statements? It really boils down to two conditions: Employers lack evidence-based tools to help reliably predict job performance, and individuals find that the best path to a good job and their fit to that job is unclear.

Hypothesizing and analyzing may be interesting, but finding a solution should be our collaborative focus. The time for hand-wringing is over; the time for action is now.

Community colleges are uniquely positioned at the intersection of individual aspirations and area employer needs. And ACT has decades of job skills data and analytics to offer. Working together and with the engagement of employers, I believe we have the opportunity to create systemic, transformational change that can positively affect all stakeholders and the economy.

A solution

As a not-for-profit public trust, ACT is compelled to offer a solution intended to spark meaningful change for the long term. The initiative is called Tomorrow’s Workforce Now.

 ACT CEO Jon Whitmore and ACT Workforce President Martin Scaglione announce Tomorrow’s Workforce Now initiative at ACT’s Workforce 2012 Conference in April.

Launched in April, this two-year initiative is intended to provide a jump start toward solving the workplace skills gap by enabling thousands of employers and tens of thousands of individuals to try a proven, evidence-based workplace solution—at no cost.

Take a look at the participants, their roles and potential benefits (click here to see chart).

The potential

Simply stated, everyone wins:

  • If 20 employers in a region each identify 20 employees or applicants for testing, 400 individuals could earn a National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) or NCRC Plus, which includes a measure of job-related behavioral characteristics.
  • Each college will have administered 1,600 assessments and served 400 individuals who may become students interested in pursuing further skill development, training or education.
  • Employers will have engaged with each other and the college in a new way, and those employers will have a better understanding of the skill levels of their employees and applicants related to on-the-job performance.
  • Job seekers and employed workers learn more about themselves and their workplace skill set as they earn a valuable, portable workplace credential.
  • And perhaps best of all, everyone has a common language for communicating essential workplace skills. The effect on the local community and on future economic development efforts can be a positive for everyone.

When ACT announced this initiative in April, Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, expressed support, saying, “It is increasingly clear that better alignment of employer needs with contemporary education and training is critical to ensuring a more competitive workforce. As the premier training provider and an economic engine for the nation, community colleges are essential to that alignment. We commend ACT for investing in this progressive assessment initiative, and we commit to supporting this new effort to better engage employers and better prepare students and workers.”

Will you capitalize on this opportunity to help build a skilled workforce for employers in your community? Consider your mission and the stakeholders you serve. Factor in the benefits for all the parties involved. Call on your workforce development partners and community champions. Seek assistance from ACT; we’re here to help. Applications are now open. We hope you’ll join us.

Scaglione is president of the Workforce Development Division at ACT, Inc., in Iowa City, Iowa.