Business & Industry Viewpoint
All stakeholders acknowledged that workforce training is critical to the mission of community colleges. Based on feedback received during the various forums, the role that EICC plays in the region varies dramatically from employer to employer. Some employers view the Colleges as critical and valued, and in certain circumstances exclusive, partners in workforce training. A few employers expressed disappointment with the quality of training delivered by EICC and a hesitancy (though not refusal) to partner further based on quality concerns. Other employers appear to have no idea what role the Colleges can serve. After learning more about what EICC has to offer, many forum participants appeared eager to engage.
|B.|| Company Specific & Hybrid Academic Internship Experiences
Somewhat related to the previous narrative about programming outside of the traditional semester framework, this section relays information shared about the development of hybrid academic internship experiences. Several employers, students and community members discussed the possibility of developing a hybrid experiential learning model wherein students attend EICC classes during a portion of the day and work a portion of the day. The employer would approve academic program or selection of coursework. After completing the experiential learning/internship module, students/employees would earn a tangible "take away" (e.g., certificate, degree, approved skill list) having transferability and marketability that is not exclusive to the sponsoring employer. The abstract model discussed generated a great deal of interest in multiple community and business and industry forums as a viable way to engage employers with EICC, deliver quality work force training while supporting the educational and employment aspirations of students.
|C.|| Industry Specific Needs
Individuals from the metals, healthcare, advanced manufacturing and information technology sectors were invited to share specific feedback related to their needs, vision for the future and engagement with EICC. First and foremost, participants shared that soft skills are critical to success in their industries and soft skills are seriously lacking among recent graduates and the overall hiring pool in the region. Industry representatives would like to see a shared responsibility where EICC addresses general education and soft skills, allowing industry to focus on job-specific hands-on training.4 Somewhat related to the "soft skills" discussion, participants shared that the flexibility and accommodations offered by educators (both K-12 and higher education) create an expectation of flexibility in the workplace that is often unmanageable. Along the lines of education and transitioning to the workplace, participants encouraged EICC to better engage high schools and the business community to create a seamless pipeline from high school to college to the workplace.
Overall, participants shared the interest in more engagement with EICC on the training and curricula fronts. This engagement could come in the form of inviting industry representatives to serve on advisory and curriculum design committees. It could also come in the form of co-facilitating education (e.g., academic internship programs) in preparation for graduates to enter the trades.
Finally, industry representatives strongly seek EICC’s support in "re-branding" the community college experience and value and support for "re-branding" manufacturing. For the most part, manufacturing "jobs" are still viewed as just that, a "job." However, it is well known in the industry that manufacturing in the region offers well-paid, non-outsourced, career growth opportunity positions. The manufacturing sector would like to partner in this re-branding for the benefit of local companies, regional economic development and area young people.
|D.|| Ongoing Skills Gap Assessment
Forum participants identified a need in the region for ongoing skills gap assessments. It was shared that the region is more reactive than proactive in terms of its ability to showcase workforce capacity to prospective companies considering the area. Community leaders expressed an interest in the development of a comprehensive "skills/talent bank" that is readily available for economic development use. Forum participants likened this concept to the 40 Developmental Assets initiative supported by the region’s non-profit and corporate sector for the purpose of efficiently allocating youth development resources. It was suggested that EICC is well suited to serve the region by supporting such an initiative.
|E.|| Joint Board Observations
After sharing the Business and Industry viewpoint with EICC and Clinton, Scott & Muscatine Foundation board members, it was noted that needs differ greatly between large and small employers / businesses. A "one size fits all" approach is not possible in meeting the needs of the business communities.