Less than two years ago, we were attentively exploring solutions for mobilizing industry, education, and policymakers as each recognized the urgency and criticality of the workforce gap and skills shortage sweeping the nation.

Spring forward, and while there are still concerns of how to collaboratively address skills gaps, labor shortages, and the upskilling of the underemployed, a more critical need has surfaced. From the pressure to retool displaced workers, to the urgency of restructuring strategic direction after the disruption caused businesses to pivot, the burden to rebuild and rebound is heavy. 

While institutions of higher education have been hit economically nearly as hard as any other business, many have stepped up to the challenge of providing recovery strategies for people and business alike. Within months of the devastation of the pandemic, community colleges across the nation were making scholarships available for career training to community members who had lost their jobs or were facing financial challenges and hardships due to COVID-19. Assistance was provided to new students, continuing students, and those transferring from other institutions. Special allocations were earmarked specifically for displaced workers who were willing to step into ‘essential’ public-facing occupations.

The growth of uncertainty and shifts in employment and the economy forced more innovative, collaborative efforts that combined solution strategies among education, industry, and government. Progressive communities began elevating strategic workforce and economic growth priorities, supporting community colleges who were proactively serving as a source of accelerated upskilling, immediate frontline training, and advanced technical education.

The proactive steps of employers were applauded and supported by educators as they were offering to upskill or cross-skill staff remotely in preparation for future increased productivity demands. Ecosystems made up of community college administrators, economic development leaders, and workforce practitioners collaborated to assess workforce priorities; recognizing what were once the top drivers of workforce development needs had likely changed over the course of several devastating weeks filled with uncertainty. Being proactive and responsive in pushing recovery and sustainability efforts forward for employers, many of the colleges’ workforce divisions quickly converted and prepared their most prominently requested and relevant training programs to an accelerated, remote delivery system with germane topics being delivered virtually. 

The strategic and significant efforts of workforce education is an ever-changing challenge, but technical and community colleges have traditionally been located within the heart of regional labor markets and deserve to be recognized as leaders in strengthening the industry network of economic ecosystems. They have been leaders in initiating and advancing far-reaching, positive impacts well before the pandemic, consistently providing accessible, affordable, and responsive workforce education to prepare individuals for self-sustaining and family-sustaining careers with little to no student loan debt. They continue to prove pivotal to strengthening the economy, yielding strong returns on investments for stakeholders, ranging from employers and government entities to taxpayers and the workforce alike.

TPMA is working with institutions and communities across the nation on efforts to ‘build back better.’ While the phrase ‘build back better’ is being used as a theme to revitalize regional economies through federal grant funds, we are teaming up with educators, economic development leaders, and workforce practitioners to provide support through Workforce Development Strategic Planning and Visioning, Industry-Driven Career Pathways, Coalition Building, and the Design and Launch of Sector Partnerships and Work-based Learning Programs, including Apprenticeships, Strategic Approaches to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as pertaining to Workforce Development, Workforce Development Board Strategic Planning, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Planning and Strategic Assistance, and Talent Attraction Program Development.

We recognize education is at the heart of recovery strategies as we work collaboratively to provide solutions and ‘build back better.’

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Author Information:

Dr. Vicki King-Maple is a senior director at TPMA. Previously a vice president for economic development and workforce solutions for a community college in central Ohio, she also completed a term as a national commissioner for Economic Development and Workforce Solutions for the American Association of Community Colleges. Vicki is an accomplished and recognized state and national presenter, panelist, editorial contributor, researcher, and consultant. She has presented for the Ohio Economic Development Association conference and the National Council on Workforce Education conference emphasizing the theme of colleges as economic and workforce development partners. She completed a doctorate of educational leadership at Ashland University with dissertation research being The Technical College’s Role in Bridging the Workforce Gap.

Vicki Maple, EdD

Senior Director, Community Resiliency & Innovation

740.624.6045 | VMaple@TPMA-inc.com