US : A new report from the National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Associations of State Workforce Liaisons and State Workforce Board Chairs urged the federal government’s support for continuing work spurred by the 2014 passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act — federal legislation aimed at streamlining public support for workforce development programs, including institutions at the higher ed level.
Michelle Sager, who heads the NGA Center for Best Practices Economic Opportunity Division, said that while the lower unemployment rates throughout the country signaled economic stabilization in the aftermath of the Great Recession, it also means employers have fewer potential qualified applicants to fill job openings. For four-year colleges and community colleges, she said it is imperative to partner with industries in fields like information technology to ensure that the degree and certification programs being offered are meeting industry needs.
“The IT industry changes frequently, so [colleges and universities] have to work with degree programs to make sure they fill the needs of the private sector,” she said, noting that many of these students are also working in a field connected to their educational pursuit, and it is important for institutions to help students find opportunities which could conceivably lead to full-time employment after graduation.
Despite encouraging employment statistics, the report found business leaders are anxious about a coming skills crisis, as well as a lethargic wage growth which continues to plague many industries. The report argued public-private partnerships between industries, government and education at the state level could play a part in alleviating many of these concerns.
Increased public support for apprenticeship programs
Strengthening apprenticeship programs has been one of the few higher ed initiatives consistently championed by the Trump administration. In June, President Trump called for a boost in financial aid access for students to pursue apprenticeship and vocational education opportunities, as well as a change in accreditation policies. Sager said there is also an increased interest among state lawmakers on the subject of apprenticeships — three governors’ offices recently traveled to Germany on a study tour to learn more about the country’s lauded apprenticeship program after President Donald Trump pointed to the country’s apprenticeship program as a promising model last March.
Sager singled out Colorado as an example of state government support of workforce development, with Gov. John Hickenlooper signing 16 different pieces of legislation in the past few years pertaining to workforce development. Sager also noted Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s efforts to tout the importance of paid internships that can act as an entryway into a career.
“It’s about making sure why that’s important, because they can try out the potential employee and see if they’re a good fit,” she said.
These states were able to address extensive issues with sharing of data and communication between federal education and workforce agencies through data integration, according to Stephen Parker, the head of the NGA’s Education and Workforce Committee.
“Often, the Department of Education and Department of Labor are not communicating about what they’re seeing from states,” Parker said. “I think the biggest frustration for states is as we run into the siloed approach to data is we have to spend time walking through our plans with each federal agency; it can take time and energy to do that.”
Sager said higher ed institutions should focus on ensuring that the spirit of communication and collaboration with state lawmakers is strong to better take advantages of funding that may be available for CTE initiatives and expanded apprenticeship programs. As an ancillary benefit, reciprocal partnerships between state governments and colleges and institutions can also help administrators keep the peace when conflicts threaten to put the two groups at odds, as has happened several times in the past year with the introduction of ‘free speech’ legislation pertaining to public institution campuses.
Parker said it is imperative to illustrate the importance of workforce development to the state workforce, and how they can feed into state economies.
“You can see the purpose of job training programs is not just to help states recover from depression, but to also help states stay strong during times of economic prosperity to make sure an economic downturn is not devastating.”
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