Catalyzing Positive Societal Change: The Synergy of Community Colleges and Nonprofits Within Workforce Ecosystems

What happens when you make a unified effort to successfully connect workforce ecosystems not only to pave the way for meaningful employment, but also to focus on addressing foundational needs like stable housing and food security? You reduce poverty.

Pipeline AZ is transforming this vision into reality in Arizona. Taking a comprehensive approach to tackle the challenges of limited access and awareness of career readiness resources scattered across different departments, agencies, and systems, Pipeline AZ unites diverse groups of individuals through collaborative processes and innovative technology. The initiative embodies a collective and unwavering commitment to dismantling silos within career seeking, creating a more interconnected and accessible career development system for the benefit of all statewide.

In this visionary initiative, learners can seamlessly connect with credentialing programs and training opportunities through career exploration and transition smoothly into localized programs aligning with their career interests. Employers and industries play an active role in marketing themselves and high-demand careers, attracting fresh talent and providing a clear pathway to acquiring essential skills, including internships, apprenticeships, and job opportunities. This collaboration involves numerous colleges across Arizona, and ongoing efforts are directed toward planning the next demonstration in this interconnected ecosystem, poised to address broader societal barriers learners face.

Picture a single parent, uncertain about joining a college certificate program due to financial constraints. This individual connects with their local community college through career exploration, where their career goals come to life through a training program. The college not only facilitates their entry into the program, but also provides direct access to United Way and the Community Food Bank, offering stable housing and food security they did not know existed. The layers of support offered by expanding awareness of local wraparound services allow this parent to transition from a minimum-wage worker to an enrolled student, anticipating a wage increase from $12 per hour to $18 per hour upon completion. This is a practical example of how education and support can positively impact someone’s journey to a better future.

This example will become a reality in the next phase of Arizona’s connected workforce ecosystem. Community colleges will have the ability to fully leverage the potential of this approach, increasing collaboration among various organizations, nonprofits, and government programs. This seamless partnership will continue to deliver services to individuals, expanding efforts to address underlying issues through existing wraparound service providers within proximity to the student. The solution is designed for community colleges to efficiently tackle and eliminate the barriers each learner faces, offering them an optimal chance for success.

The intersection of community colleges, nonprofits, and innovative solutions like Pipeline AZ improves education and career outcomes and drives positive societal change. Arizona’s pioneering work serves as a model for the U.S. as a whole, showcasing the value of collaboration, innovation, and compassion. Community colleges can transform into vital support hubs, connecting students to career pathways as well as comprehensive wraparound resources. Should every state emulate Arizona and successfully integrate their workforce ecosystems, nearly 1,000 community colleges would be empowered to connect their students to almost two million nonprofit organizations offering services that help to drive student success.

If your state is eager to embark on this uplifting journey, Futures Inc., in partnership with the League, invites you to contact us at futuresinc.com to discuss how we can collaborate to create a workforce ecosystem that celebrates success, fosters collaborative solutions, and plays a pivotal role in reducing poverty.

 

Amber Smith, M.P.A.

CEO
Pipeline AZ


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The Talent Crisis: Why Community Colleges Must Be the Cornerstone

The United States is at the front end of the greatest talent shortage in its history. The combination of unprecedented global competition, historic low unemployment rates, unacceptable high school dropout rates, and the departure of 80 million baby boomers from the workforce requires better talent supply chain models.

Attracting, growing, and retaining talent has become a battle cry across industry, with many companies and communities scrambling to develop solutions. Specifically, aerospace, manufacturing, construction, IT/cyber, and health care are all concerned about their future talent needs; the problem is exacerbated by the fact that they are all facing the same challenge. Many groups are trying to create their own one-off industry-focused programs to reach students and families earlier in their career exploration and education selection process.

The primary problem is not the tight labor market, innovation moving faster than our ability to train talent, or the lack of workforce development and training resources. The challenge is that we have so many siloed, overlapping efforts that are not strategically aligned at the local, state, and national levels. Students and job seekers are confused and cannot find the information they need when they need it to make informed career and training decisions.

Approximately 75 percent of U.S. high school students believe they must earn a four-year degree to secure a rewarding career. In reality, about 20 percent of future careers will require a traditional college degree, according to the National Skills Coalition. Of the top 50 high-demand careers, only six (12 percent) require a four-year degree. These data show that industry must work more closely with community college partners to strategically position them to provide the cornerstone for workforce and economic development models going forward.

Together, we must drive greater career awareness of all industries among students, even those as early as middle school, so they can identify career pathways that match their interests. We must give them, and their families, the hope and support they need to complete high school and make informed training and education decisions to secure rewarding careers.

The Tucson, Arizona, community is coming together to launch its first comprehensive centralized workforce development and talent optimization solution. This holistic end-to-end model connects and integrates existing workforce development ecosystem resources to provide a trusted and unbiased universal hub to support students, job seekers, and employers across all industries.

Amber Smith addresses workforce issues at the 2018 Aerospace & Defense Workforce Innovation Summit.

In spring 2019, for example, the Tucson Metro Chamber brought the right people, processes, and technology together around a unified goal to create a better model to feed military-trained talent into high-demand aerospace jobs. As part of this holistic ecosystem model, the Chamber hosted a week-long Aerospace & Defense Workforce Innovation Summit with corporate partners (e.g., Raytheon, Cisco), higher education leaders, and community college training partners. The Summit concluded with a two-day demonstration that used the skills-matching technology of PipelineAZ to pre-match local talent, including transitioning military members and veterans, with high-demand positions in aerospace and defense, resulting in 166 interviews in 11 hours and a 68 percent rate of hire. The Chamber, Futures, Inc., Pima Community College, and other partners are now scaling this model to create the first Arizona aerospace and defense talent pipeline solution built around the community college to provide the cornerstone for training and credentialing needs going forward. This model will quickly grow to include other high-demand industries.

This public-private partnership approach strategically links all levels of talent to existing career opportunities, while also providing a career development pipeline directly to education and training partners. Leveraging proven technology, every employer, student, and job seeker can access the resources they need—establishing Tucson, and the state, as a national showcase of workforce innovation and helping to address complex workforce development challenges of today and the future.

Amber Smith

President and CEO, Tucson Metro Chamber


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