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Toolkit: Building productive partnerships between colleges and industry

August 10, 2017

There are numerous opportunities for leaders at community colleges to collaborate with the private sector around combatting the skills gap and making workforce development programs more effective for students, according to a new report by Elizabeth Mann of Brookings’ Brown Center for Education Policy. Although financial and cultural challenges may present initial barriers to collaboration between community colleges and industry, overcoming these differences can make a big impact on local efforts to boost workforce development.

The first section of the report makes the case for community colleges to appoint an individual (or a group of individuals) who can be primarily responsible for developing industry partnerships. These “navigators” or “liaisons” can help potential industry partners navigate the college environment, identify shared norms and missions, and anticipate the future needs of local industries. The author suggests that the liaison does not necessarily need to be a new, full-time position, and that they could be responsible for multiple roles within the community college. There is also an important role for community college leadership – especially at the president's level – to support workforce development initiatives. While the liaison should be able to function independently, their role should be embedded within the president's office broader strategy, the report states.

Citing academic research and findings from interviews, the second section focuses on the key characteristics of productive partnerships. Some partnerships are rooted in long-term relationships, Mann notes, which can provide community college presidents with a better understanding of the types of jobs for which their students might be training.

The final section looks at practical steps for building relationships between colleges and industries. Mann recommends convening local business leaders from the for-profit and nonprofit communities as a helpful first step to building relationships with industry. Advisory boards also allow community colleges to learn more about industry trends, hear about their graduates, and make connections with other partners. Mann concludes the report with a list of additional resources that are helpful in fostering meaningful industry partnerships.

Interested in learning more about the role of partnerships in workforce development? SSTI’s 2017 Annual Conference, Building Bridges for a Better Futurewill feature several sessions on workforce development. Each of these sessions will explore a different component of the field, including the role of higher education, the need for industry partnerships, and potential best practices to address common challenges.