The American economy is powered more and more by smart machines—automation that has greatly boosted productivity and built industrial and individual wealth. But, as we know, the digital revolution has come at a hefty price. As well-paying, blue-collar jobs are replaced by technology, too many of the jobs left are of poor quality and low pay.
They don’t have to be. Even an entry-level job, like a childcare or eldercare worker, can provide a living wage, paid sick leave, regular hours and opportunities for professional advancement. But to match workers with jobs like these, employers and educators must do a much better job of aligning with each other’s and workers’ needs. Only then can workers get the training that good jobs require—training not just in technical skills, but in the uniquely human capacities that will increasingly define our work: things like creativity, empathy and personal communication.
Forging and maintaining these employer-educator partnerships is notoriously hard. To borrow the familiar phrase, employers are from Mars and educators are from Venus. Businesses and educational institutions have vastly different missions, cultures and languages, and they operate on distinctly different timetables. At the risk of generalizing, businesses tend toward the transactional, while colleges lean toward the relational. In other words, the employer’s 10-minute stand-up is the college’s hour-long sit-down.
Many of these partnerships, typically between local employers and area community colleges, also depend heavily on individual relationships. That’s all well and good—until one person in the relationship decides to leave. Yet none of these problems matters unless the education and training leads to good jobs. And for that crucial outcome, the structure, design and goals of college-employer partnerships must change.
Successful workforce partnerships meet several essential needs. First, the institutions show that the credentials they offer lead directly to quality jobs that pay a living wage. Second, their students reflect the diversity of the community. Third, their credentials follow clear pathways: they are valuable on their own, but also count toward a more advanced credential or college degree. And, finally, the programs have high rates of completion.
New America points to a number of college-employer partnerships that to one degree or another exemplify these important traits. Here are just a few that lead the way:
Workforce programs like these prove the value of carefully aligned, smartly designed collaborations that put a premium on quality jobs, however modest the pay. They succeed because the colleges have tapped into something that is core to the employer’s business model, and because they staff and organize themselves in a way that reflects that core need.
We need more of them. Because when the partnerships work, their graduates work.
Jamie Merisotis is president and CEO of Lumina Foundation and the author of Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines.
You have successfully saved this page as a bookmark.
Please confirm that you want to proceed with deleting bookmark.
You have successfully removed bookmark.
Please log in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Your session has expired. Please log in as a SHRM member.
Please purchase a SHRM membership before saving bookmarks.
An error has occurred