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Strengthening the workforce through quality skills training

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Commentary
​Jeff Finkle

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an article in the December/January edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of Community Colleges.​​

Today’s postrecession economy has taught us that having a well-prepared workforce can exponentially help reverse unemployment and increase job opportunities. As a matter of fact, a qualified workforce is the primary consideration for corporations seeking a new location in the global marketplace.

And yet, many communities across the United States lack well-trained workers that are critical to future economic growth. Not only is this a major disadvantage to those communities in enticing prospective employers, it is a threat to our nation’s overall competitive advantage.

The severity of this dilemma was underscored in a January 2013 International Economic Development Council​ (IEDC) survey to which 31 percent of participating economic development organizations (EDOs) responded that the lack of a skilled workforce was the top challenge facing their region in 2012. This represents a 3 percent increase from 2011 and a whopping 17 percent increase from 2010.

A natural partnership

Strengthening and stabilizing the workforce is thus an urgent priority, and promising examples from around the country are proving that community college and EDO partnerships are crucial to solving the nation’s workforce conundrum. Community colleges make valuable contributions to the communities they serve by educating the workforce, helping to attract new businesses and jobs and filling the talent pipeline. EDOs are the linchpin between community colleges and industry, bridging gaps to assist in the development of tailored training and certification programs to provide a workforce that is ready to work.

With states and localities grappling with scarce resources, strategic collaborations between EDOs and community colleges are essential to building local capacity. They also make good fiscal sense. Thus, their economic impact cannot be underestimated.

That is one of the reasons IEDC has partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges to spur workforce opportunities for college students.

Evidence of the need and impact of this work is all around us.

A recent college capacity-building study by the Foundation for California Community Colleges found that for every dollar spent on economic and workforce development programs at community colleges, there is a $12 increase in California’s business income and employee wages. Likewise, a 2011 economic impact study conducted for Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Mecklenburg County, N.C., reported that CPCC students and graduates contribute an estimated $157.9 million in taxable income to the state economy each year through higher incomes and increases in business productivity.

Yielding results

Community colleges have the expertise, labor and leadership to help EDOs and industry bolster initiatives at the local level. Take, for example, the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization’s (SIEDO) partnership with the College of Southern Idaho (CSI). Since 2001, the region has added nearly 30 new businesses, and CSI has been a vital partner in community recruitment and expansion deals. Whether through developing new curricula, providing targeted training or offering classroom space, the efforts of SIEDO and CSI have resulted in the creation of more than 2,900 jobs and a regional economic impact of $1.2 billion.

In a state hit hard by the economic downturn, Michigan’s Lansing Community College is partnering with the state in the Michigan New Jobs Training Program, which allows companies to receive financial assistance for customized employee training through community colleges. General Motors wisely exploited this economic development initiative to expand operations at its Lansing Delta Township plant, engaging a new shift of 1,300 workers.

Out in St. Louis, support provided by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry was critical to helping St. Louis Community College (STLCC) procure a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor last year. The grant will help STLCC develop curricula in a range of in-demand job fields, including advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, to innovate the local workforce.

Strategic economic development and community college collaborations enhance a community’s competitive edge in existing and emerging industry sectors and are key to developing a quality workforce system. The ongoing partnership between IEDC and AACC is an example for our respective memberships of the value of forging alliances to build stronger, more sustainable communities.

Finkle is president and CEO of the International Economic Development Council.

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