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Workforce Retraining: Business, Government and Higher Education Come Together

Posted by Brian Sorenson on February 28, 2017

Topics: Workforce Development, Partnerships, Employee Training

“How do we deliver on the promise of higher quality jobs for Americans in this century?”

That’s the question Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) posed to the audience at the recent Workforce Retraining: What America Can Learn From the World’s Leaders session in Washington, D.C., and it’s one that must be answered to ensure the livelihood of our communities. Hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the session featured industry experts from the U.S. and from abroad who shared insight into how employers and educators can work in partnership to bridge the growing skills gap.

Bringing together an impressive selection of speakers representing U.S. higher education (CAEL’s Associate Vice President of Research and Policy Development Becky Klein-Collins and Central Piedmont Community College Dean of STEM Chris Paynter), U.S. government (Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Thom Tillis (R-NC)), and model European business-education partnerships (Deputy Director General of the Institute for Economic Promotion of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber Monika Elsik and Vice President Representative of German Industry and Trade Freya Lemcke), the session provided unique insight from speakers whose contributions are helping the workforce compete in today’s rapidly changing global economy.

Though approaching the challenges facing today’s American workers and employers from different perspectives, all speakers were unified by two beliefs: that there exists a skills gap which is creating a challenge for the workforce and employers alike, and that employers, higher education institutions, government and foundations all must work together to provide upskilling and education opportunities to fill the gap.

CAEL’s Becky Klein-Collins noted that there are a number of possible explanations for why European-style apprenticeship models are not very common in the U.S., yet there are still many good examples of apprenticeship programs and other partnerships helping bridge the gap between and among employers, education systems and government agencies. These partnerships, Klein-Collins noted, include apprenticeship programs at Central Piedmont Community College and South Seattle College, which are in a in a diverse range of high tech and high-demand fields including IT, aerospace, advanced manufacturing and healthcare. Klein-Collins also pointed to a working and learning partnership in advanced manufacturing between community colleges and local employers in Kentucky.

Klein-Collins also spoke about CAEL-managed consortia in telecommunications (NACTEL) and energy industries (EPCE) which have helped employers with talent pipeline concerns collaborate with each other and with postsecondary educational institutions to develop new degree and credential programs that meet emerging industry needs.

“We have to recognize that what we’re trying to do is develop a workforce that’s going to be really meeting the needs of a fast-paced business and industry community, and there’s just no way that any sort of education system can move as fast as business and industry does,” said Klein-Collins. “So we need to negotiate a different sort of sharing of responsibility for education and training, so that it becomes more of a continuous processnot just training leading up to employment, but training leading to employment and then to additional training on a lifelong basis.”

What is needed, said Klein-Collins, are policies that encourage employers to be investors in workforce training, rather than just consumers of it. Already, Klein-Collins noted, progress is being made on this front. In the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, there’s a stronger emphasis on bringing employers to the table to articulate more clearly the specific skills and abilities they need from job-seekers, she said. Existing tax credits for education and training (Section 127 of the tax code, for example) also serve as an incentive for businesses that invest in employees, including workplace training and tuition assistance to encourage employees to return to college. But much more could be done to encourage greater engagement by employers in workforce training partnership.

The ITIF panel demonstrated that there is no one size fits all approach to encouraging workforce development. But as each speaker showed, leaders from industry, government and education are doing their part to develop and implement solutions that are already proving fruitful. 

To watch the full Workforce Retraining: What America Can Learn From the World’s Leaders session, click here.

For more information on CAEL’s public policy priorities at the state and federal levels, click here.