The Skills Gap: Fixing it with Shared Educational Facilities

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Evaluating Success and Closing the Skills Gap

One of the primary drivers of the disconnect between available talent and employers’ needs is the misalignment between the skills employers seek and those available in the labor pool. (Innovate-Educate.org)

At CSArch, we’ve sat at the table with superintendents, college presidents, school board members, and corporate business leaders. When the topic is education, all parties want the same thing – to see students succeed. However, we need to ask ourselves a larger question: are we preparing students to succeed in the workplace?

As Innovate+Educate found in its research for the quote above, employers are facing a skills shortage or the more popular phrase, a “skills gap”. Less skilled workers mean tasks are taking longer, costs are going up, and revenue and profit are going down. The skills gap has a serious impact on bottom line results. 

Thus, it’s time to change the conversation from, “How can we help students succeed?” to, “Will the investments we make today help students become valuable employees?” That’s where CSArch comes in. By fostering collaboration between educators, employers, and architects, we can explore new creative partnerships. Then, we can program, design, and invest in spaces that foster true student success.

Communication Along the Continuum

In our infographic, A Pathway to Shared Educational Facilities: Five Ways Architects, Educators, and Employers Can Collaborate to Ensure College and Career Readiness,” we align the changing educational paradigm with the roles employers and architects can play in identifying areas for aligning goals and visions and implementing real-world feedback or projections into project planning.

 

Closing the Skills Gap: Four Opportunities for Collaboration and Communication

1. Focus on regional employers and industries and build a pipeline of well-trained workers to fuel the regional economy.

Skills can be applied globally. However, a local focus means everyone is cooperating within the same economic sphere with concentrated impact. For example, in the New York Capital Region where CSArch is located, there is a high demand for STEM-trained employees for big businesses like Global Foundries and General Electric. To help meet the demand for skilled employees in those fields, local districts, colleges, and employers have teamed up to create programs that will build a “pipeline” of qualified candidates. CSArch is a business partner involved in one of those programs, the Clean Technologies and Sustainable Industries Early College High School (ECHS).

Clean Technologies and Sustainable Industries Early College High School (ECHS)
Through the ECHS program, high school students across the region are able to learn about renewable energy, entrepreneurship, computer information science, and semiconductor manufacturing within a shared high school/college/workplace setting. They see first-hand what their futures could look like while employers build relationships with them, organically growing a recruiting class already familiar with the culture and work life of a STEM employer.

Since its inception, Dan Woodside, vice president at CSArch, has passionately been involved with this ECHS program. The opportunities with it are multifaceted. As a sponsor and guest speaker, Dan and CSArch are able to:

  • Listen to current trends and needs amongst STEM employers and help develop original curriculum based on those needs
  • Remain in touch with local educators and what STEM-interested students need for a successful learning environment
  • Participate as an involved employer, offering mentoring and informational interviews for interested students
  • Support Girls in STEM events and programs
  • Gather valuable insight into how new technology, educational paradigms, and employer needs factor into successful building design
  • Attract other business partners to join the collaboration

Empire State STEM Learning Network
Another example of employers and educators working together to create a pipeline of workers is the Empire State STEM Learning Network. The state-wide, community-led network’s mission is to “advance STEM education to prepare all students for college and career success, to fuel innovation and economic vitality in New York State.”

One of the unique elements of the program is its “regional hub” concept that gathers partners from seven “nodes” or industry groups:

  • PK-12 private and public schools
  • Community colleges
  • Colleges/Universities
  • Non-government organizations (civic organizations, unions, researchers, or professional associations)
  • Informal STEM education (museums or libraries)
  • Government (Dept. of Labor, workforce investment boards, and elected officials)
  • Businesses

The groups within the hub work together to stimulate locally-focused dialogue so specific skills that will support specific regional employers can be integrated into the curriculum at all educational levels. For example, some of the partners in the Central New York Hub are: Syracuse City Schools, Onondaga Community College, Syracuse University, the Technology Alliance of Central New York, The MOST (Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science & Technology), the Department of Labor, and Lockheed Martin.

2. Convene business leaders to understand their vision for the future

In a recent publication of Inside Higher Ed, author Scott Jashick said, “It turns out that college students are being well-prepared for their future careers ­– at least in their own minds. Ask employers, and it’s a very different picture.”

And, a recent Gallup poll of business leaders stated, “Business leaders have doubts that higher education institutions in the U.S. are graduating students who meet their particular businesses’ needs.”

The message is clear: communication must improve between educators and employers in order to improve student skills in the workforce. One effective way to do that is to gather regional business leaders, hear what they have to say, and involve them in program design. One example of this is the College Employer Collaborative (CEC) where groups from around the country are working together to create new online learning programs.

College Employer Collaborative (CEC)
The CEC was developed by corporate learning company CorpU and Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit focused on bringing educational institutions and employers together to address workforce demands. Those involved in the Collaborative include four community colleges (Neosho County Community College in Kansas, Everett Community College in Washington, LaGuardia Community College in New York, and Alamo Colleges in Texas) and a number of leading employers including Boeing, AGCO, and MetLife. As a cooperative group, members of the Collaborative are:

  • Inviting employers to work with CorpU on the content for online courses
    – AGCO and Boeing will develop content to introduce students to advanced manufacturing
    – Insurance companies in the Collaborative are creating a course that will introduce students to the financial services industry
  • Focusing on directly applicable work skills such as financial acumen, the concept of sales (B2B and B2C), basic business models, and workplace skills (conflict management, job titles and responsibilities, etc.)
  • Integrating the new content and courses into college curriculum and specialized certifications
  • Convening multiple times a year as a group to share visions and changes in their respective industries

3. Collaborate with continuing education or workforce investment groups

Workforce investment and continuing education programs can be valuable partners in helping students of all ages become productive employees. Two examples are Michigan’s No Worker Left Behind program and Oregon’s Career Pathways Initiative.

No Worker Left Behind (NWLB)
After the recession, the State of Michigan had hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers. Then, the Michigan Commission on Higher Education & Economic Growth found that to help these people get back to work, they needed to dramatically improve their skills and keep pace with labor market changes (Source: National Conference for State Legislatures)

Michigan Governor Granholm announced NWLB. And, the initiative reflected a stark difference from other workforce development programs: it was based on collaboration with employers and aligned itself with business demands. The Michigan Skills alliance relayed the needs of hundreds of employers from around the state and worked with local education groups to ensure that the new skills were appropriate for the changing labor market. By working together, employees were engaged in a sustainable program rather than just a short-term job placement service.

Oregon Career Pathways Initiative
This program is focused on helping high school students (or students of any age without a GED) earn certificates and associate degrees while preparing them for entry-level positions in middle-skill jobs (Source: National Conference for State Legislatures) Students are able to choose from over 240 Career Pathway Certifications of Completion (CPCC), or short-term certifications.

The content of each certification was directly influenced by collaboration with regional employers and workforce development groups. The certificates are available through any of the participating community colleges. The Oregon State Board of Education then went on to create more than 350 “roadmaps” that link high school courses with CPCCs and potential careers and employers.

4. Link data about job and career forecasts to program design and funding

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that healthcare occupations and industries are expected to have the fastest employment growth and will be adding the most jobs between 2014 and 2024. In addition to healthcare, our continued search for oil and energy solutions will drive the demand for specific positions such as wind turbine service technicians and oil extraction mechanics.

This data shows a shift toward technical trades and therefore a change in the programming of many educational programs. Using data like this in collaborative planning can:

  • Garner support for change, upgrades, or renovations to facilities
  • Boost fundraising efforts
  • Help architects understand the programming needs of a new facility
  • Help educators make the best investment decisions

Similar information was used to drive many of the decisions in one of CSArch’s most recent projects, The Center for Advanced Technology @ Mohonasen. The Center is a joint venture between Mohonasen Central School District, Schenectady County Community College, and Capital Region BOCES. In addition to Mohonasen High School’s technology curriculum, the center will house course offerings by the Capital Region BOCES, and both credit-bearing and workforce development programs offered by Schenectady County Community College.

Redefining Success

Paying attention to market trends and employer needs can help us all raise the “new” definition of student success – their ability to be effective employees. In addition, innovative shared facilities or cooperative programs between educators and employees can help close the infamous ‘skills gap’. It will take, however, strategic collaboration between educators, employers, and the architects they hire to develop and invest in properties that can flex with the changing educational paradigm.

(Feature image source: Workforce.com)