Many believe that today’s economy is humming along nicely. Unemployment rates are at historic lows. As a coworker of mine once pointed out, “The International Monetary Fund recently lifted its U.S. growth estimate for 2018 to 2.9%. And many economists predict that this current era of economic expansion might be the longest one ever.”
But the economy is not serving everyone it should. Many Americans are unemployed, underemployed, and/or dissatisfied with their current job.
Perhaps most importantly, millions of people nationwide find themselves without the skills employers want.
That’s why it’s so important for workforce centers and higher ed institutions to partner effectively: both serve diverse populations of job seekers with differing needs and both exist to help people find jobs.
“When workforce centers and educational institutions don’t collaborate closely, you can see a duplication of efforts and services in both organizations,” said Katie Lynn-Vecqueray, a Customer Success Manager at WorkLife Partnership, an organization that works directly with HR departments to address productivity, engagement, and retention problems by supporting frontline workers. “There’s also the risk that programs simply won’t be used because frontline professionals don’t know about their existence. By building bridges between workforce centers and educational institutions, you create a better experience for the job seeker and/or student you are trying to serve.”
Katie (pictured right) is one of 28 career coaches who participated in the inaugural Skillful Governor’s Coaching Corps (SGCC), an intensive leadership and skills development program for career coaches created by Skillful and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. She and four other SGCC participants were on an action team whose goal was to build bridges between workforce and educational institutions in order to better serve job seekers. At the end of the program in June, they presented their findings to state policy makers for adoption.
As part of their work, the action team sent out a survey to 200 Colorado workforce and educational professionals to get a better understanding of the challenges facing education/workforce partnerships. What they found was surprising: only 20% of higher ed professionals reported having a direct workforce contact while only 41% of workforce professionals reported having a direct higher ed contact.
“Awareness is not understanding”
Another survey finding was a lack of understanding between workforce and higher ed.
“Organizations may think they know of their educational/workforce partners, but awareness is not understanding,” said Leslie Wilson Langsdon, Training Services Coordinator at Jefferson County Business and Workforce Center, another participant in the SGCC who worked on the same action team as Katie. “You may know the name of your local workforce center or educational institution, but do you know what programs they offer? Do you know what financial aid looks like? Knowing these details can make a big difference to your client.”
So how can higher ed institutions and workforce centers partner more effectively? The action team, comprised of representatives from both fields, recommended that they pursue the three following strategies:
- Make information centralized and easily accessible: Training providers and workforce centers should update their listings on COTrainingProviders.org quarterly.
- Consider co-location: Community colleges are experimenting with bringing workforce center staff on site at campus locations to streamline referrals, improve access, and increase awareness for their students about the resources available. Efforts like these should be expanded so that people don’t get lost along the way because one organization wasn’t the right fit.
- Make strategic outreach a priority: People interested in pursuing partnerships should go to where their partners are. Higher ed professionals should attend workforce staff meetings periodically, and workforce staff should attend higher ed and student events. The action team also suggested looking at successful workforce/higher ed partnerships for ideas on best practices.
Employees at both workforce centers and higher ed institutions work incredibly hard to serve their students and clients. Adding on the responsibility of more closely partnering with counterparts to already-crammed schedules can be a tough sell to stakeholders, fellow colleagues, or supervisors. Nevertheless, Katie advises that career coaches persist. “Let these people know that the initial months may require a heavier lift in terms of your and their time. Set expectations. If the person you are working with still doesn’t understand where you’re coming from, consider low-hanging fruit. You may be able to further a partnership simply by showing up to an event and serving as a reminder of your agency and its support.”
When the action team presented their findings to state workforce leaders, they also recommended that research continue to explore the challenges and solutions facing higher ed/workforce partnerships.
Other action team members included:
- Claire Benton, a Community Educator at Workforce Boulder County
- Larry Dutmer, a College Counselor at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards (featured in the video below)
- Maximillian Mascarenas, Career Services at Emily Griffith Technical College
What do you think could be done to promote partnerships between higher ed organizations and workforce centers? Let me know in the comments below!