My experience with many workforce efforts has led me to conclude that without the involvement of businesses, any efforts to educate people for jobs are fruitless. Just as we need better alignment of curriculum from high school to college in order to smooth the transition and better prepare students for college-level work, we need better program alignment with industry so that the training we offer aligns with the jobs our students hope to obtain. Otherwise, we are training in an echo chamber, talking to ourselves about what skills students need after guessing what industry may want. If our industry-related programs seek to help our students get jobs, then that training needs to be relevant, rigorous and targeted. We only know that by talking to and engaging the companies who are actually hiring our students.
City Colleges took a big step in that direction today with the first of what I am sure will be many announcements regarding an alignment of programs with industry. As Chancellor Hyman says in today’s Sun-Times, “If we don’t partner with industries and other institutions to align our degrees and certifications with skills gaps, many of our students will miss what is increasingly their only chance to join the middle class.” Going after Goal #1 of the Reinvention agenda, City Colleges is now aggressively partnering with businesses in key industry sectors to better understand what training we need to develop to meet industry needs. As a start, AAR Corp is looking to fill 600 jobs in welding and aerospace mechanics, and Rush University Medical Center will now partner with Malcolm X on allied health careers.
I am encouraged that we are taking steps that academics such as James Rosenbaum and Anthony Carnevale have been advocating. Chicagoans are competing with people from around the world for meaningful, rewarding work. Our internet-connected globe sends work to those people best trained to perform it. Our current unemployment rate and the erosion of middle class jobs (Autor, see slide 4) are alarming. We can watch in despair, or we can take the steps necessary to prepare ourselves. In an article in today’s Financial Times (behind a paywall – see the Library for a copy), Edward Luce lays out the case for the US to regain our “most dynamic market mantle.” He points to lifelong education, in large measure as delivered by community colleges, as a key to America regaining its competitive edge: “Unfortunately, there is no precedent for the challenges America faces, and thus little consensus among economists or policymakers on the best remedies. However, almost everyone agrees on how to ensure the situation does not deteriorate. Top of the list is a better education system for all stages of life.”
In order for Chicagoans to compete in the global economy, we need to do a better job of educating our residents. Some of those residents want to pursue higher education, getting their B.S. or B.A. For those students, we need to continue our efforts in remediation and ensure that we are providing the best two-year liberal arts education available. I was at a Christmas party on Friday night where a colleague told me that a local four-year university considers students we send to them as well or better-prepared than ‘native’ students. We need to continue and improve that excellent result. For those students seeking direct entry into the workforce, we need to ensure that our career programs put our students on pathways to jobs. We do that first by ensuring our program and curricular offerings are in alignment with the skills employers are seeking. Today, CCC has announced our intent to ensure we are doing that. I look forward to future announcements.