There’s a Growing Consensus in Support of Community College and Industry Partnerships

Now We Need a Bill to Get These Programs off the Ground

Yesterday morning Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) visited the Center for American Progress to announce his comprehensive plan to rebuild America’s middle class. As part of his plan, he proposed that America increase its investment in human capital by "creating a job training program that will help all workers, whatever their background, prepare for the jobs of this century." He followed up by outlining a grant program that supports partnerships between community colleges and regional employers—along with other local stakeholders—to train workers for emerging job opportunities.

We couldn’t agree more.

In fact, the Center for American Progress released a policy brief last month that advocates for such a program. In the brief, Louis Soares and I recommend initiating a competitive grant program "to scale up the availability of Community College and Industry Partnerships that lead to associate’s degrees and one-year certificates with labor market value." We suggest modeling the grant program on existing partnerships such as the mutually beneficial relationship between Macomb Community College and the automotive industry in Macomb County, Michigan.

Community college and industry partnerships are collaborations between a community college and an individual business, group of firms, chamber of commerce, industry association, or industry sector. They combine public and private resources, including finances, human resources, facilities, equipment, and expertise to create alternative college education programs that are tightly linked to regional economic development. In our proposal, industry partners would be required to provide matching funds to be included in the partnership.

By partnering with private industry, these programs ensure that academic credentials are directly linked to current job requirements and that program expansion is based on future job openings.

We believe these programs will help us build a technically skilled workforce here in America that can succeed in an increasingly innovation-based economy. And that’s why we’re excited to hear that policymakers also support this idea.

Sen. Harkin described his proposal this way:

Too often we hear businesses say they can’t find workers with the skills they need—either for current jobs or the jobs of the future.

My bill will offer challenge grants to regional partnerships of employers, community colleges, local governments and other stakeholders to provide immediate pathways to emerging employment opportunities and current local job openings.

By promoting these kinds of partnerships we can create opportunities to enter the middle class for the millions of Americans struggling with long-term poverty, including people with disabilities and people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

His announcement echoed President Barack Obama’s recent comments in support of a similar program. In last month’s State of the Union address, President Obama said:

I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that—openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It’s inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.

Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic. Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College. The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training. It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.

I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did. Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My administration has already lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, and Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers—places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

Based on these recent public comments, there seems to be a growing consensus in support of community college and industry partnerships, which is great news.

Now the next step is to translate that support into a bipartisan bill that President Obama can sign into law so we can create these partnerships and start training thousands of workers for the skilled jobs of the future.

Stephen Steigleder is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.

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