The value of partnerships

Representatives from various foundations outline some of their workforce-related programs at AACC's Workforce Development Institute. Photo: Ellie AshfordRepresentatives from various foundations outline some of their workforce-related programs at AACC's Workforce Development Institute. Photo: Ellie Ashford

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Community college leaders who want to expand their workforce development programs would do well to explore opportunities for innovative programs with foundations and corporations.

Some of those programs were profiled at the final session of the American Association of Community Colleges’ Workforce Development Institute.

The session moderator, Mary Graham, chair-elect of the AACC board of directors and president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), encouraged college leaders to take advantage of innovative workforce initiatives funded by the private sector.

MGCCC, for example, is participating in AACC’s Right Signals initiative, an effort supported by Lumina Foundation to create a new credentialing model. Graham hopes to create new credentials for workers in the gaming industry, which is a key component of the local economy.  

A pathway to success   

Patrick Methvin, deputy director for postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, described its efforts to invest in evidence-based programs, networks and incentives in support of its goals to turn 11 million additional credential seekers into credential holders by 2025.

When the project started, the Gates Foundation looked at areas where colleges were losing students and decided to invest in reforming developmental education and emergency student aid, Methvin said.

A few years ago, the focus shifted toward investing more in networks, including AACC’s Pathways Project and state-level pathways efforts. Through that work, the foundation is working with organizations to strengthen advising systems and design college pathways to support workforce programs.

Because most new jobs go to people with postsecondary education, the institutions furthest along in pathways are designing their programs with that end in mind, Methvin said.

With funding for higher education in nearly all states below pre-recession levels, the foundation is interested in steering incentives toward equity. Unless there is a focus on equity, the attainment gap will widen, he said.

Job skills for seniors    

The AARP Foundation is working with AACC and community colleges on a Back to Work 50+ initiative aimed at helping older Americans acquire the job-search skills they need to get hired.

“Age discrimination in the workplace is among the last forms of discrimination we still tolerate,” said Lori Strauss, program manager at the foundation. Older workers who’ve been displaced have a hard time getting another job with the same salary, and for woman over 50 it’s especially challenging.

The 50+ initiative gives unemployed older Americans a change to build the basic computer and technology skills, such as using email, needed in the workplace and to learn how to present themselves to hiring managers by practicing interview skills, perfecting an elevator speech and developing “resiliency” skills.

“In the new job market, everyone has to learn how to sell themselves,” Strauss said.

The project also helps community colleges and workforce investment boards build their capacity to serve this vulnerable population and reach out to employers.

Strauss urges college leaders to designate “a champion of multigenerational workforce on your campus,” create a pipeline of workers of all ages and listen to employers.  

Filling the pipeline   

J.P Morgan Chase & Co. launched a program three years ago called New Skills at Work to give employees the skills they need to advance in their careers.

Building on that concept, the company recently started the New Skills for Youth initiative aimed at high school students, said Sarah Ayres Steinberg, vice president of global philanthropy. Ten states were selected last month to work on redesigning career and technical education.

“Good jobs without diplomas are going away,” Steinberg said. There are lots of conversations about how to address that but a deeper analysis is needed.

Not everyone needs a bachelor’s degree, Steinberg noted. The idea of expanding four-year college for everyone is the wrong approach, especially for those who drop out and end up with student aid debt and no degree or skills.

“We need to show young people there is a path for them to get a good-paying job without a four-year degree,” she said.

They do need technology skills, however. And they need help navigating labor market data, she said.

J.P. Morgan is investing in industry-based partnerships to ensure education and training systems are meeting the needs of employers, Steinberg said.

The company partnered with Montefiore Medical Center in New York, which hires hundreds of people a year, to develop a pipeline for people with “middle skills.”

“If people at an early age take the right courses and get the right skills, there is a good job waiting for them,” said Steinberg. “Community colleges are the true driver of economic mobility.”

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