Q&A With CAEL Staff: Rob Garcia
Rob Garcia joined CAEL last July. He manages data-driven workforce and economic development approaches to support adult learners. In particular, Rob focuses on workforce and economic development collaboration around competency-based career pathways development that drive adult learner success.
What’s your favorite example of CAEL’s impact?
What I love about CAEL's work is the impact it has in meeting the needs of so many local communities. Certainly, we center our focus on the experience of adult learners and jobseekers – helping them realize their career goals by building the skills they need for the jobs they want. But doing so also meets the needs of employers who are struggling to find the skilled workers to grow and thrive. This also helps workforce boards, higher education institutions, nonprofits, training providers, and other partners better align the work that they do with the needs of the students and communities they serve. Our focus on building strong ecosystems is where the magic happens – helping so many stakeholders in a community achieve their goals and prosper.
What drew you to CAEL?
CAEL has a long legacy of driving meaningful outcomes for adult learners. I have seen CAEL not only deepen its expertise in higher education, but expand its impact among the workforce community, among employers, among state systems and agencies – the more CAEL continued to expand its reach and impact, the more I wanted to be part of that work. And that doesn't happen by accident; it is the result of bold and innovative leadership and deep expertise from top to bottom all across the organization.
If there’s one piece of advice you could give adult learners and one piece of advice you could give to institutions/organizations committed to better serving them, what would it be?
For adult learners, I would say that this work is not static – it doesn't happen in a vacuum. The best way to engage in higher education and workforce training is to recognize that wherever you are on your journey, learning and skill-building is a lifelong endeavor. For community institutions, my highest priority is always that they develop a keen listening ear to the local employers in their community. Even within a single sector, employers have different needs depending on their size, their niche in the industry, their pain points – and those needs change as the economy and the technology they use evolve. Building robust industry relationships will always better serve students and adult learners, because it ensures the programs and services you provide are always relevant. And when employers feel heard, they stay at the table and continue to be part of the work.
What gives you the most hope about the future of the adult learner ecosystem?
If there is a positive outcome to the economic turmoil that came out of the pandemic and the upheaval of our daily lives over the last three years, to my mind, it is that workforce development and higher education have emerged as critical issues to nearly everyone. Those of us in the field have long known that these are vital issues facing both businesses and workers, but it hasn't always been easy to make them a priority in the minds of policymakers and institutional leaders. Now, I think it has come to be seen as a critical way to advance equity, to strengthen our economy, to help families and communities thrive, and to ensure everyone has the opportunity to flourish in the skilled economy of the future.
What is the last book/movie you read/watched?
I just re-read A Time To Build by Yuval Levin. It is a favorite of mine, and his insight on how we can build a future together as communities and as a nation –- specifically by building, repairing, and strengthening the institutions that are essential to our daily lives –- is so inspiring to me.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I'm an avid (and terrible) golfer – I can’t get enough of it. I am also a sucker for live music, I love the outdoors, and I can be found at just about every Auburn home football game.