In my day-to-day work as an education writer, researcher and publisher, I have the great pleasure and honor of talking with and interviewing some very interesting and highly knowledgeable people. Such conversations are like getting a quick crash course on relevant and timely topics. I liken these talks to getting free deposits in my personal knowledge bank.
A recent conversation I had with Laurance Warford, Senior Workforce Consultant for the League for Innovation in the Community College, an international organization dedicated to catalyzing the community college movement, fits within this category. Larry is a nationally recognized workforce and community college expert with nearly 40 years of solid experience.
The topic of our conversation dealt with how community colleges and companies could develop stronger and more productive relationships in the workforce development arena. It’s a topic that has been on peoples’ minds for many years, and it exists within a general notion that these two entities basically have a long history of not being able to communicate with each other in an effective, mutually beneficial manner in order to produce the training and professional outcomes that companies and the American workforce, in general, really need.
My first question to Larry: “What can community colleges and businesses do better to facilitate more productive collaborations that will effectively train today’s workforce?”
“First of all,” Larry explained, “community colleges need to develop improved relationships with prospective employers who actually do want to utilize their educational products and services. Islands of innovations do exist across the country – where community colleges and businesses have developed excellent relationships – but community colleges, in general, have not learned how to really involve business and industry in their educational programs. Business and industry, in general, has also not learned how to effectively reach out and communicate their needs and wants to the decision-makers and educators at community colleges.”
About one year ago I heard a similar discussion at a conference dinner meeting that was attended by community college and business and industry professionals. Many in attendance noted that oftentimes community colleges and companies speak two different languages. However, everyone agreed that this could be easily bridged with stronger efforts, on both sides of the table. In short there’s a need, beyond the so-called “islands of innovation,” for stronger and more intentional relationship building.
“So, Larry, if I’m a company what’s my next step?,” I asked.
“I would go right to the top and make sure that I talk to someone who impacts student advising, student services, general education, vocational education, and placement – all those factors,” he said. “So, go to the community college president or the president of the board of trustees. Take that person to lunch. Don’t paint yourself into a corner and think that the only part of the college that will help you is the workforce or vocational education division. Take a direct approach.
“If an employer has enough employees who need to be trained, community colleges will deliver that training to your doorstep – credit or non-credit – and they’ll customize that training to whatever you really need,” Larry continued. “Community colleges have the expertise and faculty, and if they don’t have it, they will find it. I used to hire a lot of consultants when I ran training programs. They did not just work for the college. They worked for ABC Electronics, for example, and I’d bring them in the back door and out the front door. They would be like account executives. So, community colleges can be similar to a broker or clearinghouse. They can get into company-specific training.”
All this sounds simple and rational enough, right? Well, many of my community college friends, like Larry, say a lot of work still needs to be done – that there are not nearly enough “islands of innovations” out there. Some point out that many companies need to reverse a trend in which they have drastically cut training dollars. Others say there are still many small companies, in particular, that don’t even realize that their local community college can provide the WFD they really need and expect.
What’s your point of view? What do you think community colleges and companies need to do to improve WFD?