An Arranged Marriage: Community Colleges and Corporate America

An Arranged Marriage: Community Colleges and Corporate America

By Marcia Daniel on Monday, October 10, 2016


Recently, I read Bryant Neilson’s “5 Corporate Training Trends You Can’t Afford to Ignore.” He writes about emerging trends in corporate learning, the bring-your-own-device generation, and competency-based learning, all of which are helping companies to enhance the skillsets of their employees.

This made me think about the many conversations I’ve had with community college leaders over the last few years about their ongoing struggle to partner with local companies—large and small.

I strongly believe the biggest area of growth for higher education is in continuing education and workforce development, but I fear that there may be too little emphasis placed in this area, despite its growing importance for local economies.

Deloitte reports that 2.7 million jobs are opening up between 2015 and 2025, as Baby Boomers are leaving the U.S. workforce. They also mention that more than 2 million jobs will go unfilled during this time due to a major skills gap. What’s more, nearly 10,000 Baby Boomers in the U.S. are retiring everyday.

What does all this mean for community colleges? Well, for one, it points to immense growth opportunities to drive increased enrollments. But will the higher education community be ready to embrace this opportunity and create a more educated workforce?

For some institutions, like Stark State College, the answer is yes. Para Jones, president of Stark State College says, “Our college’s integrated approach to workforce development ensures that our talented, expert faculty work with companies to solve their workforce needs. We believe this approach benefits students, companies and our region’s economy.”

Stark State College’s approach reflects the importance of continuing education and workforce training. “Serving workforce needs has been at the heart of Stark State College’s mission since our founding in 1960,” says Jones, “initially, we created programs in engineering technology to serve the education and training needs of the manufacturing and industrial companies that dominated Northeast Ohio’s economy at that time. We continued adding programs in health, business, information technology, energy, and other fields to keep pace with regional workforce needs.”

Jason Scales, manager of education services for Lincoln Electric, says, “Skills are the new world currency.” Scales suggests working with employers in your local communities to understand the value of the skills and certifications your students bring to the job. This may be a strong indicator of whether your institution is meeting the needs of the local business community.

Strong job training and workforce development initiatives show that an institution is ready to partner with world-class employers. It also demonstrates that an institution is prepared to educate and train the employees they need to accomplish their goals.

What President Jones and Jason Scales are doing may not be revolutionary, but it’s working. Their efforts signal that a working relationship between community colleges and corporations should be non-negotiable. The future of our local and national economies depends on these partnerships.

My two cents for community college Leaders: Work closely with local companies as they review their long-term learning and development strategies. This will give you insight into knowledge gaps in their workforce and reveal opportunities for you to partner with them successfully to fill those skills gaps.

Now that you’ve read my observations on community colleges partnering with local businesses, I want to know what you think: What’s working? What’s not working so well? Leave a comment below or drop me an email at [email protected].

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