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Four Ways to Establish Ties with Local Community Colleges

Education Leader Talking During Meeting

In this article, a former high school educator shares four tips on establishing ties with local community colleges, and what benefits it can bring to the students, colleges, and employers.

As recent as fall 2015, an estimated 6.9 million students, or roughly 38 percent of undergraduates, were enrolled in two-year (or less-than-two-year) community colleges, according to Community Colleges for International Development.

With almost seven million future trade employees in community colleges, there are plenty of skilled workers in the pipeline – a very welcome sight for sectors of the workforce that face a skills gap. But are these current students learning exactly what they need know to meet local employers’ needs?

For many employers, the success of their businesses are heavily tied to the progress of local community colleges in the type, and volume, of future workers that these two-year institutions are able to annually graduate or certify. With the advancement of technology in manufacturing and other like sectors, businesses need workers who are ready to work, and are skilled in the areas with the widest competency gaps.

Studies have shown that a key component of a successful workforce development program is a strong relationship between colleges and local employers. Without a functional relationship, workforce development strategies may not align, or may be unsustainable. And when relationships dissipate, reverberations are felt across the board.

So with all of that in mind, here are four tips on how to establish ties with local community colleges, and the benefits that it can bring to your business, the college, and its students.

1. Consider finding a liaison to help with efficient communication

The first step in trying to align two separate entities is to find a middle man – in this case, a liaison would be fitting. While this person can be hired, or promoted from within, businesses will want a go-to individual whose primary responsibility is to develop and build these relationships. This person should be able to devote significant time to building productive relationships, which in turn, should increase efficient communication among the two groups.

Educational learning system providers, such as Amatrol, communicate with both industry leaders and educators on a daily basis. Our relationship has formed into a great resource to help bridge the gap between local companies and colleges to facilitate introductions, help identify workforce needs, and provide assistance to colleges as they align their programs to solve the skills gap.

Perhaps most important, though, is that a liaison can identify shared norms and missions between the two entities. With these shared ideas, liaisons can help develop a strategy that is beneficial for students, the college and the employer. In the end, this person’s goal should be to satisfy the wants and needs of all parties involved to develop complementary outcomes.

Ultimately, excellent communication is a must among partners, within their organizations, and to the public. Communication is essential to understanding partners’ long-term and short-term needs, which will evolve over time.

2. Start with a brainstorming session to get the ball rolling

The key to any relationship is open discussion – and what better way to get the ball rolling for honest dialogue than a round table forum? Suggested participants for this conference include local businesses that are in need of skilled workers, community college leadership, workforce board members, and chamber of commerce representatives.

By hosting a round table discussion, businesses give the leaders from local community colleges an opportunity to be in the same room with other leading industry partners. From there, as a team, you can assess the needs of all parties, and identify where, specifically, community colleges can help out.

The goal of these meetings is to identify areas for collaboration, and how both sides can work together to help each other. Allow for open, constructive criticism, and talk through any issues that may arise. Understanding the wants and needs of all parties involved means there won’t be any surprises down the road.

For a best practice example, look no further than the recent successes of both Ashley Furniture and Central Louisiana Technical Community College (CLTCC). Ashley Furniture invested $3 million to provide technical training equipment and curriculum for four Wisconsin school districts. On the other side, CLTCC recently received a $4 million grant to “strengthen manufacturing training programs” in Central Louisiana, and establish a Central Louisiana Manufacturing Technology Center in Alexandria, La.

When local businesses, non-profits, and schools work together, great results can be achieved.

3. Get the campus’ president involved in discussions

Just like any company or major corporation, a college campus’ president is the one to make the final decisions on changes in the college. The sooner that he or she is involved, and the greater their understanding of the issues become, the more smoothly changes can be accomplished.

By having collegiate leadership involved in your business’ discussion, they can begin to develop in-depth understanding of local employment environments. So even though some may feel a college’s president is “above” a round table discussion, or getting involved in the initial steps of forming relationships with local businesses, the reality is the president’s involvement is essential to understanding what a community truly needs. Seeing a leader “buy-in” to a philosophy leads to the building of positive change; this creates optimism about an end product being achieved.

Not only would the president’s attendance signify the commitment put forth by the community college, but it would also give him or her some insights into where the future jobs will be. By having them so deeply involved in these discussions, it can help shape what the community college envisions itself accomplishing over the coming decades.

Four Ways to Establish Ties with Local Community Colleges: Find a Liaison, Brainstorm, Get President Involved, Invite Faculty

4. Invite college faculty members to voice their opinions, concerns

While it’s important to get the college’s leadership to buy in, the school’s faculty members are the ones in the trenches. So while they may not carry as much decision-making weight as the president, their involvement is critical because college professors see the students every day. They know about their students’ strengths and weaknesses, and can provide appropriate curriculum to focus on particular skills that employers deem most useful. Additionally, many instructors have industrial backgrounds, and can offer more in-depth discussions to learners.

With that in mind, invite members of the college’s faculty to take part in a community-based organization. By being part of a group that utilizes constructive dialogue to build and maintain relationships, ideas could develop organically, leading to a more natural exchange of needs and ideas for everyone involved. Familiarity with those you’ll be working closely with in the future will make the learning curve that much shorter for all involved.

And don’t limit that organization to just the educational realm. Like with your round table discussion, a town’s economy doesn’t just affect a business or school – it can influence everyone in the community, past, present or future. So aim to include as many different outlets as possible. Besides, you may need their input at some point in the future.

 

About Wes Scott

Wes Scott is a former public high school teacher and journalist. He is currently a Marketing Content Developer for Amatrol, Inc. Learn more about Amatrol and its technical training solutions, including eLearning, here and connect with Wes on Amatrol’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube pages.

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