Beverly Riddick

Skills Gap Solutions: Collaborative Efforts between Employers and Educators

June 30, 2017
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By Beverly Riddick, Executive Director

Employer collaboration and partnership with educators at community colleges and vocational schools were the focus of a dynamic one-day workshop in Minneapolis, where business leaders, educators, and policymakers gathered to review best practices and share success stories.

View presentations here

The event was part of the Employer Leadership Roundtable Series organized by the Ready To Work Business Collaborative (RTWBC), a business-led organization that brings together employers who have a vested interest in hiring and retaining ready-to-work talent consisting of the long-term unemployed, the under-employed, people with disabilities, veterans and opportunity youth.

Attended by more than 60 professionals in Talent Acquisition and Human Resources, Workforce Development, Program Management, and Education, the program, hosted by US Bank and Robert Half, explored best practices in hiring and retention with a focus on skills gap solutions.


Highlights of key presentations:


Beverly Riddick, Executive Director of the RTWBC, kicked off the event with a welcome address and an overview of the U.S. skills gap and its impact on an employer’s ROI.

Guy Finne, Manager Human Resources, Mayo Clinic delivered the keynote presentation. He drove home the importance of developing innovative programs to cultivate talent in a community and to develop individuals whose skills and education did not align with the candidate profiles sought by local companies. Underscoring the practical success of such programs, he described a successful collaboration between employers, workforce development agencies and nonprofits, and educational institutions, including high schools, community colleges and technical colleges. Integrated skills education and career-specific training for the healthcare sector constitute the focus of the skills development program created by this synergistic initiative. Funding for this collaborative effort was provided by both public and private sources.

The first session of the morning focused on skills assessment and core competencies.

• A pioneer in the field of workforce development, Jamai Blivin, CEO of Innovate+Educate outlined the company’s Skills Assessment techniques, which have been adopted by businesses as a screening tool to identify candidates with specific skills and core competencies for industries as diverse as retail, healthcare, hospitality, IT, and financial services.

The following session, Career and Technical Education and Middle Skills Training – Addressing the Skills of Tomorrow With Education Alternatives, focused on efforts to offer the youth of St. Paul, MN 19 career pathways and to enable them to discover opportunities in careers that might not require a college degree. Access to these career pathways is through specialized training in entry-level positions and paid internships at local businesses in finance, healthcare and law.

Mary Toner, Advisory Coordinator of the CTE Business Career Pathways Academy, and Karin McCabe, Outreach Director of McGough Construction, discussed a program focused on trades in construction as well as on math and financial management skills. Local construction businesses participate in an advisory committee and host site tours and provide internships that often culminate in job hires.

The Educator and Employer panel discussions followed. The first, focusing on 4-Year College Partnerships, was moderated by Angela Lurie, Sr. Regional VP at Robert Half.

Craig Yolitz, Vice President of Operations at Thomson Reuters, and Kevin Tharp, Program Director for the B.S. in Digital Marketing Technology, University of Wisconsin-Stout, described their organizations’ collaboration. The university created a new curriculum in Digital Marketing Technology where Thomson Reuters staff serve as adjunct professors to educate students about real-time skills in a rapidly evolving industry. Speaking to the success of the program, Thomson Reuters is poised to hire the first student graduate and the partnership continues to grow, with increased student enrollment, expansion to Minnesota and Wisconsin Technical College, and outreach to local high schools.

• A similar program was developed by Partners Healthcare, where Dena Lerra, Incumbent Program Manager, and Katherine Decelles, Academic and Career Coach, partnered with Melissa Goldberg, Senior Workforce Strategist at the College for America at Southern New Hampshire University. Through this initiative, current employees take courses that help them advance in their field in healthcare.

The following Educator and Employer session, moderated by Josh Copus, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, National Association of Workforce Boards, emphasized Community College Partnerships.

Lori Tapani, Co-President/Owner of Wyoming Machine, explained how her company worked with Heidi Braun, the Director of Workforce Development at Pine Technical and Community College, to encourage employees to pursue basic and advanced training through skills-focused live and virtual courses while still on the job. Employees simultaneously become adult students as they study on campus, at the work site, or at home to develop technical skills and obtain certifications appropriate to jobs and advancement in manufacturing.

• A related scheme is the web development bridge program at LaGuardia Community College. Stephanie Royal, Executive Director of Workforce Partnerships at LaGuardia Community College and collaborator Tom Ogletree, the Director of Social Impact of General Assembly, outlined the program that targets a diverse and underserved population – almost 40% of their students are women who do not have an undergraduate degree. The program features an immersive 12-week agenda, culminating in support for job search and employment. By working with the college, participants receive training that leads to an Associate’s degree.

Typically associated with military and fitness training, bootcamps are an intensive training model applicable to business and job skills development when applied in the right setting to the appropriate audience. Michelle Ufford, Executive Director of the NE Minnesota Office of Job Training served as moderator for the panel dedicated to employers successfully utilizing this model in the business setting.

• According to Martha Laboissiere, Program Director of McKinsey – Generation Initiative and Brian Hancock, Executive Director of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, NJ, unemployed youth are particularly well-suited to the bootcamp approach. Their program has had significant success, scaling to 24 training sites to date, working with more than 300 employer partners, and showing tremendous ROI statistics on advancement and retention.

Melanie Augustin of Zip Code Wilmington explained how the curriculum for the training and development program at Zip Code was designed by CTOs and senior developers from hiring partners to meet their companies’ needs for hire. Consequently, the 12-week bootcamp-style software development intensive program yields graduates who have a high rate of employment, with before and after annual salaries ranging from $30k – $63k.

In a discussion of Employer-led Social Responsibility: Candidate Pipeline and Retention Improvement, panelists addressed the issue of homelessness among youth, who may be employed but nonetheless have housing issues.

• Aware of retention and hiring issues among employers at the Mall of America, Janette Smrcka, Information Technology Director at the Mall, was contacted by Oasis for Youth to come together and provide support services to employees. Nicolle Mills, Oasis Executive Director, described the discrete, onsite services the group’s offices make available to youth facing stresses that affect their attendance and employment at the mall.

• Likewise, WorkLab Innovations is piloting the Sustainable Workforce Model around the country to improve post-hire retention. Their focus is building collaborations with community organizations, government agencies, and employers for employees facing multiple life difficulties that challenge success in the workplace. Mindy Ysasi, Executive Director of The SOURCE boasts that employers are realizing a 90% retention rate across the network and saving millions of dollars in turnover expenses.

In a final presentation dedicated to the hot-button employment topic of apprenticeships, Daniel Villao, Deputy Administrator at the Department of Labor, highlighted the benefits of the DOL’s newly focused registered apprenticeships as an option for employers to build a new talent pipeline. Employers may pursue apprenticeship registration either at the federal or state level, and Villao delineated the DOL’s technical assistance capabilities as a resource that will guide an employer through the process. With the Administration’s endorsement of apprenticeships, Villao is enthusiastic about the prospect of apprenticeships continuing to gain traction as a solution to the skills gap.

In the final wrap up sessions, participants agreed that the range of programs – collaboration between local businesses, community colleges and nonprofits, internships for students in high school and college, immersive programs, bootcamps, and apprenticeships – all offer avenues to help employers increase ROI through identifying nontraditional, skilled talent and build a talent pipeline. Each model can be tailored to meet the needs of sponsoring employers, schools, agencies and nonprofits.

Encouragingly, there are diverse funding streams to support expanded hiring initiatives, including federal grants, state programs, nonprofit fundraising, tax credits at the state level, and sustainable income from tuition and placement feeds from employers, that should be thoroughly explored by employers and educators prior to launching new programs to maximize the return on financial and other investment by businesses.

We look forward to continued conversation, engagement and collaboration with employers and educators as we work to implement skills gap solutions – what’s working for you? What challenges do you face? Who might you seek to connect with? Let us know how we can assist you in your efforts to expand talent recruitment and find solutions to skills development and job training.

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