Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce forecasts that total employment is expected to increase from 140 million to 165 million jobs in 2020, and of those jobs, nearly 80% of them will require some form of post-secondary education outside of high school. States such as New York, Florida and Texas have embraced this growing need of stackable credentials and are building a model that puts community colleges at the forefront of solving the workforce gaps within their communities.

In the past, community colleges were stigmatized as a second rate of education – those days are long gone. Throughout the country, community colleges are embraced  as progressive and the pivotal supplier of highly-skilled graduates, and as the chief supplier of “middle-skilled” labor professionals for businesses within their communities.

Hand-in-hand community colleges and businesses provide courses that are built with real positions in mind, ensuring that community colleges are teaching the courses and skill set that directly relate to exactly what is needed for the community. This partnership strengthens both the community and the colleges because it ignites passion in the hearts of students enrolling in the programs as they know a job in that field is within reach.

Rockland Community College in Suffern, New York, has launched a Middle Skills Academy, which is an example of how this type of partnership can provide students the chance to earn a certificate that will help them obtain employment within a consolidated period of time. 

The programs with Middle Skills Academy are designed to teach specific skills in a concentrated time frame so students can start a new career and earn a good salary in less than one year. The programs are structured in such a way that the courses may be transferable as college credit for the student in the future.

“At Rockland Community College, we recognize that there is a high demand to fill ‘middle-skills’ jobs, which require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree,” said Dr. Penny Jennings, executive director of Strategic Initiatives at RCC. “To this end, we are focused on offering programs that fit the needs of employers and workers. We expect great success for students enrolling in our January 2019 inaugural classes.”

Another example of how colleges are adapting to the changing workforce needs of the local community was highlighted in a New York Times story about how Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) uses mobile classrooms for workforce training. Tri-C joins a number of trailer/mobile learning labs being created by community colleges throughout the United States.

The mobile classroom model ensures that the college is meeting the demands of our employers by taking educational programming to the students. Tri-C has embraced this model to enhance its manufacturing, healthcare, and technology offerings.

“Our trailer, which is booked for 47 weeks this year, allows us to take the training to businesses and directly address the region’s manufacturing skills gap,” said William Gary, executive vice president of Workforce, Community and Economic Development at Tri-C. “Employers allow their employees time, and they can walk right out of the plant and into our trailer for an hour, or three hours, to conduct the training right on site.”

Photo credit: Cuyahoga Community Colleges

Community colleges around the country are taking a stand and making concentrated efforts to build their communities, not only through access to education, but through completion on the terms of the student and at the capacity to employ by employers. This symbiotic union among industry, students and community colleges is a magic ingredient for raising a community’s ability to build self-sustainable families and brighten futures for generations to come.