Transformational Engagement in an era of Reskilling and Economic Recovery

Transformational Engagement in an era of Reskilling and Economic Recovery

Eric Dunker, Associate for Business Strategies, Associate Vice President and Dean: Business, Technology, and Workforce Partnerships, Arapahoe Community College

For over 100 years, universities and community colleges have brought practical research and relevant education to their local communities and industry stakeholders. Presently, models for higher education engagement are more in line with 20th century emphases on academic disciplines and serving historical community needs. These models often lack the agility to be nimble and responsive to present day realities.

In the post-pandemic world, shifting towards transdisciplinary, demand-driven, and technology enabled models for engagement to match the pace and complexities in program delivery our local communities will require has never been tested like it will now.

These are some of the lingering questions facing community colleges and universities as we create new paths forward:

  • Are we equipped with the modern engagement infrastructure and resources?
  • Are we nimble enough to deliver demand-driven programming? 
  • Are we poised with partnerships to maximize impact to meet the real-time needs of local communities?

At this moment in our history, there are opportunities for community colleges and universities to pivot decisively toward engagement strategies that co-create with their communities and states a renewed focus on talent equity across the learner ecosystem.  There is a demand now for transformational partnerships required to accelerate and sustain community recovery and growth.

These transformations will require innovative delivery models that calibrate with the skills-based economy while bridging the digital divide (82% of jobs will require digital literacy).

The COVID-19 pandemic has expanded existing disparities in health, economics, and access to technology.  As an example, many lower-wage jobs in sectors such as hospitality and retail have over-relied on women and communities of color to carry the weight of their industry. Many of these jobs may never come back.

Traditionally underserved learners/workers in the labor market will require practical pathways and ‘stackable’ credentials outside of the traditional degree system to wage sustaining careers with multiple on and off ramps into industry.  These are drivers for academic innovations.

Access to technology and quality public health has created a larger gap between the haves and have-nots, leaving many communities questioning how they are going to create the path forward.

There is a clear need for radical change in (1) the recalibration of our talent pipeline ecosystems, (2) diversification and access to pathways to real-time reskilling and upskilling, and (3) colleges and universities to transform their external partnerships.

The reciprocal engagement of our colleges and universities with local communities will be paramount to an equitable recovery. An intention of this blog is to emphasize the opportunities for the ‘engagement missions’ of public universities and community colleges.

LVE seeks to highlight the following building blocks toward such transformations in future blogs, including:

  1. Talent Equity across the talent pipeline ecosystem and labor market and expanding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work outside the walls of the institution through engagement.
    1. Co-creating robust work-based learning opportunities in wage sustaining industries and careers to provide more equitable labor market access and opportunity for learners.
    1. Identifying and addressing regionalized, demand-driven programming that provides new paths for underserved communities.
  • Co-creating demand-driven programming and partnerships with the lens of upskilling and reskilling to deliver real-time information and training.
    • Addressing and bridging the digital divide in communities
    • Addressing equity gaps that are localized to regions and local communities and co-creating tangible strategies with engaged partners to close these gaps
  • Resource development strategies to sustain and grow engagement infrastructure and programming
    • Fee-for-service (revenue generation)
    • Federal, state, and local grants or appropriations
      • New grants from federal agencies that directly address this work
    • Philanthropic gifts/foundation
      • Foundations looking for partnership driven engagement through impact investing
    • Braided funding from government and industry
      • Expanding partnerships with local government and federal workforce centers

These are some of the wicked problems and transformational opportunities of our post-COVID higher education world.  Over the next several weeks, we’ll dive into each. The reality is that these are complex, but not insurmountable challenges which require multiple thought-partners.

Photo by ClarkTibbs on Unsplash

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