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Motorola CEO calls for more business, college partnerships


​Greg Brown of Motorola Solutions calls on businesses to work more closely with community colleges to develop a highly skilled regional workforce.

Photo: Diane Smutny/Harper College​

The head of one of the Chicago area’s largest companies wants fellow CEOs to partner more with community colleges to address a growing gap between workforce skills and the labor needs of businesses.

At a meeting last week at Harper College (Illinois) with its trustees and foundation board members, Motorola Solutions Chairman and CEO Greg Brown said companies like his are finding it increasingly difficult to match job openings with workers possessing technical and communication skills. Closer corporate involvement with community college students can help, he added.

“We have to show students a path, connect the dots and show them how to get from here to there,” Brown said. “Students need to know that if they complete a degree or certificate, what’s on the other end. What does it look like? Harper and other community colleges will play a critical role in making that happen.”

How to make it work

Motorola Solutions—which is headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., and employs 23,000 workers in 65 countries—is already working with Harper College to fill those gaps. Last summer, the company provided mentors to 30 at-risk incoming freshmen enrolled in a summer bridge program. The results from the pilot program are promising. Most of the students in the program tested out of developmental classes and began their college career in credit-bearing courses, and 95 percent of the students are still enrolled at Harper.

Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), joined Brown in calling for improved ties between colleges and industry.

“If we are going to solve the skills shortage, it’s going to take community colleges and CEOs talking to each other to identify job trends and skills that are needed now and in the future,” said Bumphus, who also attended the meeting at Harper. “Communication is critical to do a better job of aligning education and training programs with the jobs that are out there.”

Brown and Bumphus serve on the advisory board of the Aspen Institute's Skills for America’s Future initiative, which encourages closer partnerships between employers and community colleges. The two leaders said they’re encouraging more companies to provide internships to community college students, especially in manufacturing where the skills shortage is particularly acute. According to a survey from Deloitte & Touche and the Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing companies cannot fill up to 600,000 skilled positions, even as unemployment rates remain at record levels.

“We’re going to see employment-based learning as a new model going forward,” said Harper President Kenneth Ender. “It’s a powerful tool for getting people on the path to good, middle-skills jobs, but it’s going to require a closer partnership between community colleges and local companies.”

A regional approach

Under a new regional workforce initiative, Harper, other local community colleges and local business leaders are currently recruiting 50 companies to provide internships which will be incorporated into a new workforce certificate program. If students perform well during the internship and in class, they can be hired directly by the companies that provided the internships.

Workforce training initiatives started locally between community colleges and nearby employers have the best chance to succeed, Brown said.

“The way to solve the job skills problem is local, community and neighbor up, not federal and macro down,” he said. “At the end of the day we have to lock arms locally. To the extent my company can improve access to education and hope and jobs, that is what we will do.”