It is one thing for a student to take the steps to enroll in college and after years of dedication to their program or study of choice, earn a certificate or degree. But then what? How well are colleges and universities preparing their students for the steps that come next – success in the workforce? Yet perhaps the real question that needs to be asked is, how well are college and universities collaborating with companies and organizations to prepare their students for success in the workforce?
A reported 96% of chief academic officers of colleges and universities believe their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the workforce, yet only 11% of business leaders strongly agree.1 To effectively bridge that gap, colleges and universities must better recognize the needs of employers in order for their students to have competitive voices in the workforce.
As colleges and universities have begun to recognize that career readiness is an essential aspect of the higher education experience, they have taken noticeable strides. Preparing students to successfully transition from the college campus to the workforce has become so critical to turning out prepared and adaptable graduates that many, if not most, campuses have career offices and advisers. These career readiness advisors help students learn the skills to find, acquire, maintain, and grow within a job. They also emphasize the importance of integrating learned academic work skills with career work skills by focusing on critical thinking, collaboration, professionalism, and other career-related competencies.
While there is much potential for improvement, more than any time in the history of higher education, students have access to classes, support, and advisers who they can rely on to navigate the adjustment to the workforce and to help them feel as though they are already on familiar ground. For employers, however, that familiar ground is not nearly as recognizable as it was prior to the declaration of the national public health emergency.
Due to the turbulent ripple effects caused by the on-going pandemic, today’s companies, organizations, and manufacturers are experiencing unprecedented disruptions in their workforces. In this time of ‘The Great Resignation,’ employers are facing shortages of employees, and employees are not only leaving jobs but they are also changing career paths. The result is a nation with a shortage of employees and in the case of the skilled labor market, aggravated by an aging and/or retiring workforce. Today’s college graduate is entering a workforce and labor market so revolutionary that roles, responsibilities, managers, and mission statements are practically shape-shifting on a weekly basis. It’s a big ask for both sides.
One example of effective collaboration
Ridge Tool Company, the maker of RIDGID-branded products, manufactures power tools, and tools for pipe-fitting, HVAC systems, and electrical contracting industries. Reeling from the effects of the waning and fluctuating workforce, the Ohio-based company recognized the need to stabilize their potential employee pool and be better positioned to help their customers in the trades fill their skills gaps with training and continuing education. They also recognized that Lorain County Community College (LCCC), was their area’s leader in higher education. LCCC, on the other hand, recognized the need to partner with local companies in order to thrive in their community and to support their students.2
Ridge Tool and LCCC’s shared philosophy of collaborative efforts is one example of how colleges and universities can collaborate with business to enhance the growth and development of their communities. The two entities collaborated to create a customized training program. The apprentice-style program enables each apprentice to complete 10,000 on-the-job hours and 1,000 contact hours at LCCC, which can be applied to an associate degree program – with all tuition costs and supplies paid for by Ridge Tool.3
‘Poverty Proofing’ the Education Experience
Another example of the successful transformation from potential to achievement is the College Work Program at Paul Quinn College – the ninth federally-funded work college in the U.S., the first minority-serving institution in the Work College Consortium, and the only work college in Texas. There are a limited number of federally recognized Work Colleges that offer students a substantially reduced tuition in exchange for services to the college and/or to the surrounding community. Typically, work colleges such as Paul Quinn College incorporate work hours into the curriculum. Students learn real-world work skills such as leadership and time management and can save a significant amount of money while earning a degree.
To better align college and university agendas with business and employer needs, there must be a greater emphasis on career readiness. Effectively transitioning students from the campus to the workforce is one way to successfully bridge the gap. Collaborative efforts between college and universities and businesses, both local and nation-wide, will likely be the key that opens more doors to collective success.