What Can Community Colleges Expect From the US Chamber of Commerce in Terms of Job Skill Creation?

To put this article into context, I recently attended a meeting of college presidents. One of the keynote speakers was the senior HR director of a large manufacturing company lamenting the fact that small liberal arts colleges are not necessarily training students for the workplace or providing them with the technical skills necessary for success after graduation.

Times have changed but colleges and universities have not

But when I think about his statement, it is no surprise to anyone that the skills needed in today’s economy have changed drastically over the past two decades. However, what is a surprise is that higher education—particularly small liberal arts institutions—have not kept up!

With such disruptive events as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, millions of low-skilled jobs are disappearing nationwide, only to be replaced by millions of other high-skilled jobs elsewhere in the economy. Yet there has been a lack of recognition at many higher learning institutions of fast-changing times. As a result, both businesses and employees are struggling with the situation. A new approach is needed (one that will prepare the workforce for the 21st century).

Businesses need workers, workers need the right skills

The hardest hit sector in the foreseeable future will be the manufacturing sector. Even if over 1 million new jobs have opened up over the past decade, nearly 400,000 remain unfilled. The reason for this is that these jobs require specialized skills such as using software to track inventory, supervising complicated computer-directed machinery, assembling intricate high-tech products, and many others. And employees displaced by automation rarely have the necessary job skills to fill the new positions. To make matters worse, many new college graduates also don’t possess them.

This problem is not limited to manufacturing. Over 50% of available positions across the country go unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates. This means that around 40% of businesses can’t hire new employees.

“There are not one, but two gaps preventing our nation from fully leveraging talent in our economy,” said Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce. “The first is a skills gap—too many people lack the skills or credentials they need to compete for 21st-century jobs. The second is a people gap—too many businesses can’t find the workers they need, when and where they need them. Closing both gaps is imperative to our competitiveness.”

To bridge these gaps, the Chamber of Commerce is exploring several practical steps that both communities and employees can take.

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation Center for Education and Workforce

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation Center for Education and Workforce is an organization that brings together business leaders from numerous industries as a means of tackling some of the most critical education and workforce-related issues of the country. The fundamental purpose of this organization is to challenge the status quo and move education and workforce initiatives toward economic success.

The Talent Pipeline Management strategy

One of these initiatives is called Talent Pipeline Management. It is a workforce strategy that facilitates partnerships between businesses and education providers to meet today’s employment needs. The hope is to better align curricula with all job requirements needed for the 21st-century workforce. The business community can take charge of these education and workplace partnerships by communicating their employment and skill requirements to education providers.

One successful implementation of this strategy was by Rolls-Royce and its massive Crosspointe engine manufacturing complex in Virginia. Before the company invested in its very first facility built on US soil, it wanted to make sure that it had access to a permanent workforce that could fill the jobs.

Rolls-Royce accomplished this by partnering with the local community college system and establishing an education program specifically tailored to its progressive manufacturing processes and operating systems. Since this partnership was established, Rolls-Royce has been providing regular input on the community colleges’ curriculum as well as on the new tools and resources needed to train the students on the machines and systems used at the Crosspointe facility.

The Launch My Career web tool

On a more local level, the US Chamber Foundation Center is deploying a consumer information tool called Launch My Career. Although currently available only in Colorado, Tennessee and Texas, this interactive web tool provides students with information about the potential return on investment of a degree or certificate gained from certain technical schools or community colleges.

The tool measures a college’s value beyond graduation and helps students, post-secondary institutions and policymakers better understand and decide between training and skills that will provide the highest benefit to students and surrounding communities.

Those looking to earn a degree will gain access to data that identifies in-demand jobs across those three states and specific regions, as well as which certificate programs will prepare them for those jobs. Launch My Career will also compare projected earnings to the investment required to graduate from any particular program or school. It analyzes and examines the earning potential of different career options and helps students understand the professional and personal satisfaction gained by pursuing different courses and careers.

Furthermore, Launch My Career includes a lifestyle goal calculator which shows the number of years before the salary earned from any occupation will meet the user’s lifestyle goals. Also, it features a break-even calculator that indicates how long it will take before the earnings exceed the total net price of the study program.

“We talk a lot about college debt, and how little fun it is to be strapped,” says Amelia Bozeman, executive director of the Business Education Partnership Foundation in Tennessee. “Launch My Career is something that will really help kids go into life with their eyes wide open.” 

Other US Chamber of Commerce initiatives aimed at bridging the skilled labor gap

The US Chamber Foundation Center is also involved in a partnership with Google.org and JPMorgan Chase & Co. to develop The Job Data Exchange, an employer-led job registry that provides employers and HR technology partners with the tools and resources required to communicate their hiring requirements. In a rapidly changing talent marketplace, this registry will help to better signal job skill needs to both students and education providers.

Also, the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have joined forces and released a downloadable report entitled Quality Pathways: Employer Leadership in Earn and Learn Opportunities. Its purpose is to outline how the business community can improve employer leadership and investment in a wide variety of earn-and-learn opportunities such as quality internships and apprenticeships.

What’s needed going forward: business-led solutions in partnership with education providers

“We are tackling these challenges so that the American Dream remains in reach for all who are willing to work for it. And we’re urging all the stakeholders to join us and seek business-led solutions. If we work together and close these gaps, opportunity will flourish, the economy will grow, people will prosper—and our nation will remain the most innovative, competitive, and productive on earth,” said Thomas J. Donohue in a speech at Talent Forward 2018.

Community colleges should embrace these initiatives put forth by the US Chamber of Commerce. They need to start working together with local businesses and develop learning programs for their students which will be able to bridge the gap between the current workforce and the job skills required in the 21st-century.

To learn more about how higher ed is (or is not) adapting to today’s fast-changing times, we recommend these podcasts, blogs and white paper:

Is your institution in need of change? We can help.

At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we have written extensively about the need for higher education institutions to refocus so that students receive a good return on investment on their education. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce programs have made significant headway in providing an entry opportunity for higher education. Developing workforce programs will go a long way to resetting the scales!

If you would like to know more about the work we are doing in higher education—particularly how we help refocus institutions so that a student’s return on investment is meaningful—please contact us at info@simonassociates.net.

From Observation to Innovation,


Andy Simon
Partner, Simon Associates Management Consultants

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