The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying public health emergency caused disruptions to society that many healthcare experts predicted. Yet through all of the forecasts, anticipation, risk mitigation, and response measures, the pandemic’s relentless pressure has affected the global workforce in ways that continue to upend the most methodical calculations.

The United States is experiencing the effects of ‘The Great Resignation.’ In 2021, more than 38 million Americans quit their jobs. In a recent study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group and The Network, more than two-thirds of workers in 190 countries want to learn skills for new roles that offer more job security and opportunity. Employee interest in retraining is at its highest on record. The writing is on the proverbial wall: reskilling and upskilling have become increasingly important in the unpredictable wake of the pandemic.

What Are Reskilling and Upskilling?

Reskilling and upskilling are two similar yet distinct ways to retrain a workforce. Both provide opportunities for employers to help employees grow within their organizations while maintaining a stable workforce in this ever-changing business environment.

Reskilling involves training employees in new skills that position them for lateral moves within their organization. Upskilling involves focusing on the required skills so employees can advance or move up within their organization. Both are now more essential to the strength and sustainability of the workforce than ever before. If, for example, a business was a sports team that had a reserve of players trained and ready to play in pre-pandemic times, today’s businesses have not only lost their ‘reserves’, but many barely have enough players to take the field. The ability to reskill and upskill existing workforces will enable organizations to stay competitive while providing opportunities for employees who are eager to learn.

How Higher Education and Community Colleges Help

Higher education has a significant role to play in the successful reskilling and upskilling of employees. Postsecondary workforce development has long been a strong suit of community colleges that have historically stayed attuned to the needs of local industries and provided work-experience and project-based learning opportunities that align with the respective supply and demand in their communities.

However, the ability to provide trainings and certificate programs is just one way that community colleges can help support their local business community. Far more than a simple stepping stone to a four-year degree, community colleges can offer resources for students to obtain skills training that range from technical to communication, problem solving, and critical thinking. Many businesses are understaffed and have immediate hiring needs for skilled employees. Community colleges have the potential to facilitate employee reskilling and upskilling training while businesses are experiencing a ‘lack of reserve’.

The workforce development expertise found on community college campuses could be one silver lining in the cloud of pandemic-induced need for reskilling and upskilling training programs — one that would not only respond to an immediate need but would also provide a long-term solution. Below are three suggestions for community colleges and local businesses to successfully align supply and demand:

Share the upsides. Community colleges offer companies a diverse potential recruitment pool while business partnerships offer community colleges the opportunity to provide job preparedness. There is a synergistic potential to tap into resources and reach new levels of success.

Focus on motivation. Many students at community colleges already hold full-time or part-time jobs. These students have a demonstrated drive and recognize the values of employment skills. Training and mentorship opportunities can plant the seeds for preparing future job candidates and are ideally suited for reskilling and upskilling.

Create a leadership pipeline. Businesses can identify and reward high-performing employees by placing them in a leadership track that offers advanced education, including college-degree attainment, upper-level professional certifications, or management skills. This may require flexible work schedules to align with classroom requirements, but the benefit in terms of employee retention and upskilling should more than compensate.

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