Concerns over employers not being able to fill workforce gaps with qualified graduates has become a growing theme throughout higher education conversations; leaders throughout the U.S. News & World STEM Solutions in Washington, D.C. conference Thursday and Friday offered constructive solutions for industry leaders seeking to build more strategic, collaborative and meaningful partnerships across education and the workforce and establish pathways into lucrative careers.
Defining success as job placement
Undoubtedly the workforce is changing, and the number of jobs students can fill with a high school degree alone is dramatically dwindling, said Mike Cartney, president of Lake Area Technical Institute, during one of the panel discussions. The industry as a whole is going to have to adapt its approach to postsecondary education and build a stronger pipeline so that more students are able to go on to more advanced degrees. Cartney said that his institution has seen success in graduating 70% to 80% of students and placing 99% of graduates in high-income jobs by focusing on "hire education," making education resonate much better with students by offering a valuable tangible goal, rather than just the degree.
"Although we are student focused, we are mostly what I call industry facing. We take our lead, set our goals, and find successful strategies based on industry needs. We have about 400 industry partners helping make sure our product is what our graduates need in the workplace. We see ourselves as the community's first responders, teaching our students the foundational or soft skills that they need to do their jobs," said Cartney, who noted that the reason why the institution has been able to retain students and keep them on track is because the institution gives them a clear mission.
"Because we define success as placement not graduation, our students see college as more relevant. When we talk to them we aren’t talking about a degree, but rather a career. What it is that you actually want to do? We really view college as a pathway, not a destination," he explained. "So, when we talk to students about why they want to be in class, it goes back to what they want to be — not about the degree."
James H. Garrett, Jr., dean of Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, said focusing on holistic education can also mean observing the value a four-year model has to offer, where schools can provide not only the technical skills, but also the increasingly important ethical discussions around those skills — a demand that is rising within Silicon Valley.
"In today’s world, when you have technologies coming online faster and faster, we need to make sure those in the area have an understanding of the ethics and the responsibilities in society; We also want to make sure people have a growth mindset and passion for learning," said Garrett. "The growth mindset is the joy of learning but understanding that it takes a lot of effort to invest in yourself."
Targeting the pipeline beyond the academic readiness
Making education more about how the student can actually contribute to the larger community has always been a key component of the community college approach. It also means that these schools have always had to adapt to changing societal needs — something other industry stakeholders can learn from in trying to build collaboration across employers and institutions, said Bryan Albrecht, president of Gateway Technical College, during another session.
"One hundred years ago our college was founded to help build and transform the workforce from an agricultural community to a mass production industrial community with some pretty solid brand names; Today 100 years later, it's a new legacy skill set in STEM that we have to focus on," said Albrecht. In keeping with this goal, Albrecht explains that targeting the entire education pipeline in Wisconsin meant going beyond just offering academic services, but actually focusing on the holistic educational approach early on.
"We provide industry certification pathways for our teachers at the high school level so they can offer those certifications to their students," Albrecht explained. "In Wisconsin, we have an incentive program where any high school students who earns an industry credential along with an academic credential helps their school receive a 1000 incentive bonus. So, it’s really important for the teachers to get the training, and then of course we support them with the equipment that goes along with it."
In terms of how policymakers can take on this type of proactive approach toward partnerships, Rod Duckworth, Chancellor of Career and Adult Education in the Florida Department of Education, says that legislators can provide more resources and incentives for around institutionalizing growth of CTE options throughout K-12 districts. He mentions that in the 2016-17 year alone, high school students earned over 100,000 certifications.
"A great number of teachers and administrators across the state work together to deliver some great CTE prorgams in grades 7-12 and into our 2 year Florida college system programs. This has worked because we receive a tremendous amount of support for our programs over the last several years, that being in the form of the financial support needed to grow the CTE programs in the state," said Duckworth. "Not only are these students earning degrees that will help them, school districts are actually earning dollars, these certifications are tied to funding that the districts receive."
Don't just create industry partnerships, develop strategic community links
From the employer's perspective, it's evident that as a country "we are facing serious economic headwinds," with issues like "low employment, high retirement rates for baby boomers," said Richard Lester, Technician Development Manager at Toyota Motor. Subsequently, he says, basic public-private partnerships don't "don't cut it anymore," and "need to be more robust."
"We have our executive leadership work with industry and legislative organizations, we do legislative advocacy, as well as work on engagement with educators. On the giving side, Toyota seeks to invest over 5 million a year in programs impacting students in student preparation for STEM careers," said Lester, who emphasized the need for more collaboration for specific skills postsecondary institutions could be developing among their students.
"True collaboration between education and business is critical. Standards drive program content, resources and occupational alignment, which is critical. They drive continuous improvement. In fact, many of our standards are coauthored by our training partners."
Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of the Business-Higher Education Forum, which partners with national business organizations to support connection across education to fill workforce gaps, also notes jokingly that 'partnerships' have become a type of buzzword throughout the higher education industry — but, they certainly can improve to become more effective.
"We’ve learned about the weaknesses that too many partnerships are too fragmented and narrow. They are tactical, and third, they are too transactional this led us to the conclusion that more strategic multinational partnerships can generate high-impact mutually beneficial results," said Fitzgerald at one of the sessions. "To address this, we spend a long time considering what a strategic engagement business model is, where we use high impact influencers via C-suite leadership, philanthropy, human capital of both the talents that work with campus academics, as well as HR policies and practices, to better support institutions as they develop new workforce relevant undergraduate programs."
Joanna Daly, vice president of talent at IBM, also emphasizes that partnerships between educators and industry are necessary to focus on the technical skills themselves; collaboration is critical, she says, to making sure institutions are actually offering employers what they need, noting that IBM "is embracing the skills gap challenge," by "partnering with community colleges," and "starting apprenticeships in areas like software development."
The way to do this, said Fitzgerald, is working through ways in which industry can provide incentives not only for schools to develop certain kinds of programs, but for students to continue their education in those necessary areas.
"Boeing for example will try deliver support and incentives for students to move into engineering degrees and move on to master's degrees. The key to this is not only creating strategic partnerships and really knowing the region, but also putting together a rich ecosystem for students and working adults to enter the education pathway to the highest level," said Fitzgerald.