Just 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 the concerns of how to conjointly address such challenges have been exacerbated. The urgency of restructuring strategic direction since the global disruption has caused businesses to pivot, and the burden to rebuild and rebound is heavy.

The growth of uncertainty and shifts in employment and the economy have forced more innovative efforts, combining solution strategies among industry, education, and government. Progressive communities are elevating strategic workforce and economic growth priorities.

The proactive steps of employers are applauded as they are offering to upskill or cross-skill staff remotely in preparation for increased productivity demands.  Ecosystems made up of educational administrators, economic development leaders, and workforce practitioners actively assess workforce priorities; recognizing what were once the top drivers of workforce development needs have likely changed over the course of several devastating months and years filled with uncertainty. Being proactive and responsive in pushing recovery and sustainability efforts forward for employers, many institutions quickly converted 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 remain an ever-changing challenge. Technical and community colleges have traditionally been located within the heart of regional labor markets and deserve to be recognized as players in strengthening the industry network of economic ecosystems. They were leaders in initiating and advancing far-reaching impacts prior to 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.

Many colleges and universities are exploring or strengthening Business & Industry (B&I) Engagement Processes as part of today’s solution strategy. These processes are centric to gauging and addressing employer challenges and workforce gaps as the institutions are helping to fill the talent pipeline; providing training for incumbent workers; placing skilled individuals into internship opportunities; engaging in career exploration events.

Similarly, economic developers are bolstering their Business Retention & Expansion (BR&E) models. They are discovering the benefits of more actively involving local educational institutions and training providers; thus, illuminating the parallels between B&I engagement processes and BR&E models.

While the phrase ‘build back better’ is used as a theme to revitalize regional economies through federal grant funds, there is also merit to emphasizing the benefits of educators, economic development leaders, and workforce practitioners to rally and to ‘build back better’ as a consortia. From workforce development strategic planning and visioning, industry-driven career pathway crafting, coalition building, and the design and launch of sector partnerships and work-based learning programs, to collaborative visioning and strategic planning, implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and talent attraction program development, the collaborative efforts of industry and education are at the heart of recovery strategies as all work synergistically to provide solutions as together, we ‘build back better.’


Dr. Vicki King-Maple

Senior Strategic Advisor, TPMA