I recently was able to work with the leadership of another community college in a retreat to craft the focus of the College’s next strategic plan.
For the second time this month, we used our Community-Centered Strategic Planning Process℠ – a process carefully designed to involve a broad array of internal and community leaders to align community needs with educational priorities – to drive our work. Rooted in AACC’s “Re-Claiming the American Dream” report, the process positions the college as an economic engine of regional growth and stability, not just an education or training provider.
During the session, leaders exchanged thoughts about the skills gaps in key sectors within the region, the need for a more agile and nimble curriculum (that shifts with the dynamic needs of the market), and more rudimentary things – like the need to dramatically improve the significant rate of remedial training required by incoming students (by the way, this is a common problem nationwide).
Employers stressed how “soft skills” (like communications, team work, dependability, and individual responsibility) are their focus – even before technical skills. I hear that in every forum now. One manufacturing executive exclaimed that she’d pay $55,000 to start for workers with a work-readiness credential (no degree required). Then she said she would send interested workers back to school with support from their tuition reimbursement plan!
As I listened to employers plead for help, reviewed the data scan and surveys we did as “inputs” to the event, and observed college leaders in their breakout discussions, I was impressed with a sincere desire to innovate and listen.
But there were “resistors” as well. One manager, out of frustration (but also accurately reflecting the silos we’ve lived in for years in America’s education system), exclaimed “But that’s not OUR problem!” when the group began to address the issue of high remedial education rates.
Another leader, when reflecting on the need for “nimble curriculum design” said, “But you don’t understand, we have to clear a lot of regulatory and institutional hurdles to introduce any new curriculum.”
Actually, I DO understand … all too well.
We (as a country, as states, as regions) are engaged in a talent war. As author Jim Clifton points out in his book The Coming Jobs War, there are approximately 3 billion people around the globe looking for a “full-time, formal job” and only about 1.2 billion of those jobs available globally. If you need a statistic other than that one to understand the challenge of a new, global economy, you, my friend, are not paying attention.
We need to move more quickly. As regulators, we need to allow our schools to innovate, to push through ways for them to adjust and adapt more nimbly. As schools, we need to push new methods of instruction to meet the needs of today’s marketplace.
Competency-based design, stackable credentials articulated to college credit, strong industry partnerships (shared across silos where workforce, economic development and educational leaders engage with employers as one “talent supply chain”), and disruptive innovation (breaking down the wall between high schools with co-enrollment and advanced programs) are all in the prescription.
In the meantime, we need to start this dialogue more earnestly and in many more places. Every college should be engaged now and preparing for a new way of doing business that will help us win this war.
Community colleges are uniquely positioned to be engines of regional prosperity. They can be leaders in our economic revival, but they’ll need to see their role differently, and take the responsibility to lead.
Protecting the status quo will not win the talent war. Let’s win. Let’s start today.
Until next time,