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CAEL Pathways Blog

CAEL’s 2024 Regional Summit in Atlanta Connected Dots - and Colleagues

Q&A with CAEL Leaders Who Were There

You may have read in the latest edition of Intersect With Earl, from CAEL’s president, that CAEL hosted back-to-back SNAP E&T and Economic Mobility Regional summits in Atlanta in April. With a backdrop of beautiful Atlanta weather, along with a great venue for collaboration, both events allowed for deep connection, collaboration, and learning.

Convening complementary components of the education-employment ecosystem, the Economic Mobility Summit created vital opportunities for mission-aligned but often siloed practitioners to bridge gaps that limit the intersections of learning and work. CAEL views collaboration within these intersections as essential to developing equitable pathways for adult learners and workers. In turn, their individual success is essential to sustainable economic growth for the communities in which they live and work.

Speakers at the summit included leaders from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Atlanta Department of Labor & Employment Services, the University System of Georgia, Seattle Jobs Initiatives, Grant Associates, American Public Human Services Association, UPS, the Machinists Institute, and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Summit participants represented dozens of additional employers, educators, trainers, and other organizations key to regional economic development. If you didn’t get a chance to join them, please keep an eye out for future events, most notably, our annual conference, which this year will be held in New Orleans as we celebrate CAEL’s 50th anniversary. We will also hold another regional summit in 2025.

From left to right, Matt Waltz, CAEL senior vice president, partnerships and development, Earl Buford, CAEL president, and John Flanagan, commissioner of Atlanta's newly established department of labor and employment services, address summit attendees.



And if you didn’t get a chance to attend the SNAP E&T summit, you can still participate in CAEL’s Adult Learner Centered and Equity Framework for Community Colleges in a SNAP Network (ALCEF). ALCEF offers training and technical assistance to community and technical colleges to either build or advance SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) Programs. More information is available at cael.org.

In the meantime, for some personal perspectives about our most recent gatherings - and why they are so important to the entire ecosystem serving adult learners and workers – you can find a brief Q&A below with three CAEL leaders who were on hand for them. Jeannie McCarron is vice president, member engagement; Wilson Finch is vice president, initiatives; and Rachel Hirsch is vice president, public partnerships.

How was the turnout for this event?
Jeannie: We were delighted to welcome just over 100 individuals from 42 different organizations to Atlanta. Representatives from postsecondary and many areas of workforce development joined
in on the conversation and collaboration. As only our second gathering of this nature, the turnout exceeded our expectations, and each participant brought something special to the conversations.

What is the significance of a Regional Summit? Can the learning apply to any region?
Wilson: We are finding that a regional approach to serving adult learners and workers is the most effective way to meet ultimate goals. Each stakeholder group - whether from workforce, postsecondary, or employers - holds an important part of the equation that is needed by the others. And, just like with other innovative practices, taking the ideas from a successful model in one region can definitely be applied to other regions with appropriate tweaking.

Were you surprised that so many SNAP E&T summit attendees also came to the Regional Summit on day 2?
Rachel: I was pleasantly surprised! What we’re finding with this turnout is that many of our attendees are looking at a holistic approach to serving their learners and workers, and are trying to gain as much knowledge about all of the available resources, which includes important funding sources like SNAP E&T. We were also happy to welcome many of our ALCEF participants, who then learned more about what CAEL focuses on more broadly on day two. 

What was the most common question/issue you heard from participants, and how did the summit help address it?
Jeannie: The top three things attendees said they needed right now to do their best work are: data, a team, and help. Although gatherings like these can’t provide everything, they can ignite powerful thinking. The incredible speakers that shared their time and wisdom were able to provide relevant data and information and best practices - all to get conversations started, and to focus the work where it’s needed in this place and time.

Was there something discussed during the SNAP E&T day that you wish everyone could know?
Rachel: There are so many things, but the fact that SNAP E&T can be leveraged to get a 50% reimbursement on funds spent on SNAP recipients is a game-changer. Although each state functions differently, CAEL can help community colleges weed through the details and learn what can work in their state and how to get started. Due to grant support from the USDA, CAEL can offer free technical support to community colleges interested in learning more. We do this with the collaboration of our wonderful partners at Seattle Jobs Initiative, American Public Human Services Association, and Grant Associates. Visit HERE to learn more about ALCEF and the work we are doing.

Everyone expects participants to learn from the summit, but as one of the presenters/leaders of the event, what did you learn?
Wilson: I learned that stakeholder buy-in is still among the most important concerns of our attendees. We at CAEL have learned over the years how important consensus is when implementing a successful credit for prior learning program. It’s interesting to see this overlap in many areas. One thing I heard again and again is the need for support from employers. It’s important that all of the stakeholders are involved in the strategic discussions. Convenings like this will provide the venue! Let’s keep the conversations going!

What was your favorite piece of feedback you received from the survey results from the Summit?
Jeannie: Aside from the comments that Coke tastes so much better in Atlanta? I think my favorite comment was, “I didn’t even know CAEL existed until someone from CAEL reached out to me about this event. We need to be a part of this organization because we have so much to learn and to share. I need to sign up for membership today!”

For more information about the content of the summits, or about CAEL membership, CAEL’s involvement in SNAP E&T training, or CAEL services, email us at membershipservices@cael.org

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