Cultivating the next generation of workforce leaders

Participants in NCWE's New Workforce Professionals Academy tour the automotive training center at Baton Rouge Community College in Louisiana. (Photo: NCWE)

Editor’s note: This article is provided by the National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.​

All sectors of business and industry in the United States struggle to find qualified employees. Community colleges have been called upon to educate the workforce, which means the workforce development field requires strong, committed and capable leaders who are not only able to lead their own organizations, but who also can work collaboratively to build effective workforce systems.

However, community colleges oftentimes neglect to develop their own pipeline of leaders. Professional development opportunities tend to involve one-off conference participation, leaving new workforce professionals on their own to learn the increasingly complex workforce ecosystem.

The National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE) developed the New Workforce Professionals Academy, which provides not just a one-time seminar, but nine months of activities and mentorship. The Academy, piloted in 2017, was designed to advance knowledge and skill development for community college workforce education professionals who are relatively new to the field of workforce education. Last September, NCWE accepted into the Academy the second cohort of workforce professionals.

“Developing strong team members, especially in workforce education and development, is a top priority at Clark State Community College,” said Clark State President Jo Alice Blondin, who had two staff members participate in the Academy. “The field of workforce and economic development is extremely complex, and staff members in these fields must hone their communication and technical skills to work with students, state agencies, non-profits, the federal government, business and industry, and internal college faculty and staff.”

Continuing the momentum

Academy participants start with training and sessions during the NCWE annual conference. They get an opportunity to network with each other and discuss promising practices and lessons learned. But it doesn’t end there.

All participants are assigned a mentor from the NCWE board of directors. Mentees are paired with their mentor based on their current position in credit or noncredit workforce education and their professional goals. The mentor serves as both a professional guide and as someone external from the participant’s institution who can assist in solving problems and linking the mentee to other resources to resolve an issue or complete a project.

Site visits are another highpoint. Participants visit two flagship community college workforce development programs. These site visits are designed to expose participants to the full array of programming, nuances, and variability of workforce training and education programs. One site visit emphasizes credit workforce training, while the other focuses on noncredit workforce training. During these site visits, Academy participants learn valuable lessons and promising practices that they can bring back to their own institutions. Additionally, participants partake in three webinars.

A better understanding

The Academy curriculum was designed by, and delivered by, senior leaders and practitioners in workforce education. Through structured activities, Academy participants learn how to improve communication across departments at the college and with external partners, and improve external partnerships so the college can more effectively connect and engage with workforce boards, community-based organizations, chambers, economic development agencies and other organizations in their community.

Participants also learn to use a business plan or model to develop programs and ensure the fiscal viability of their department within the college, understand data and data analytics, and gain an increased awareness of the types of programs necessary to meet the needs of all learners.

Taken as a whole, the Academy activities increase the knowledge base and leadership skills of new workforce professionals, helping them attain the acumen and skills to achieve success in workforce education and advance more quickly as future leaders.

In September, NCWE received funding from the ECMC Foundation to support the Academy. This funding lasts for two years and will support 36 participants in the Academy over the course of the next two years.

About the Author

Darlene G. Miller
is executive director of the National Council for Workforce Education.