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Preparing Workers to Reclaim the American Dream

Today's guest blog post is by Peggy Walton, Senior Director of Workforce Readiness at Corporate Voices for Working Families.  Corporate Voices advocates for family-friendly policies for low income workers.  Kronos is a Corporate Voices partner organization, as are a number of our clients.

At a time when national leaders are looking to America's 1,200 community colleges to help fuel an economic transformation, a new report from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) spotlights both great opportunities and serious challenges ahead. Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation's Future details community college "student success rates that are unacceptably low, employment preparation that is inadequately connected to job-market needs, and disconnections in transitions between high schools, community colleges, and baccalaureate institutions."  Considering the national imperative to add 20 million post-secondary educated workers over the next 15 years, these are serious indictments for higher education institutions tasked with preparing a globally competitive workforce and ones to which employers look for the next generation of talent.  As stated by John-Anthony Meza, Vice President for Workforce Readiness at Corporate Voices and advisory board member at the Workforce Institute at Kronos in their latest book, Elements of Successful Organizations, “Not enough young people are attending college, and those that do are not learning what they need to succeed after graduation”.

Corporate Voices for Working Families commends AACC and its 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges for recommending a new vision for America's community colleges.  Our corporate members share the commitment to "Reclaiming the American Dream". U.S. employers have much at stake in the success of community colleges and the students they are educating for the workforce of tomorrow. Moreover, employers can–indeed, must–be a part of the solution, by helping to ensure that college coursework aligns with the knowledge and skills they require of their new employees, and by helping working students juggle the demands of school and their job.

As part of its “Learn and Earn” micro business case study series, Corporate Voices has documented a range of best practice talent development partnerships between businesses and education providers - frequently community colleges.  These models help bridge the skills gap for employers, while encouraging and/or supporting current and future employees' attainment of post-secondary credentials with labor market value - the most significant benchmark for achieving economic sustainability. Learn and Earn partnerships provide a real return for these leading companies.

For example, the Western Association of Food Chains, a non-profit business organization of over 40 retail grocers, including large corporations such as Kroger, Safeway and SuperValu/Albertsons, as well as a number of regional companies and independent stores established the Retail Management Certificate Program with 135 community college partners in 10 western states.  This certificate program provides these employers with a more educated and high-performing workforce, and helps establish a defined career pathway aligned with educational attainment.

Education-and-business partnerships like this one create models for ways in which community colleges can meet student success targets in connection with their labor markets.  This was highlighted in the Institute's Elements of Successful Organizations book in the chapter Business and Education Partnerships: Creating Pathways to Employment.  Moreover, Corporate Voices' publication, Business and Community College Partnerships: A Blueprint, is a tool that helps guide the formation of these partnerships.

Corporate Voices agrees with AACC President and CEO, Walter Bumphus, who acknowledges that individual colleges have demonstrated success, but said, "We haven't done a [great] job of replicating these practices across the country."  Corporate Voices and its employer members stand ready to join community colleges to replicate best practices like Learn and Earn, and support this initiative to “Reclaim the American Dream.”

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