The head of one of the Chicago area’s largest companies called on fellow CEOs this week to partner with community colleges to address a growing gap between workforce skills and the labor needs of businesses.
Motorola Solutions Chairman and CEO Greg Brown told a joint meeting of the Harper College Board of Trustees and the Harper College Educational Foundation Board that companies like his are finding it increasingly difficult to match job openings with workers possessing technical and communication skills. Brown said closer corporate involvement with community college students can help.
“We have to show students a path, connect the dots and show them how to get from here to there,” said Brown. “Students need to know that if they complete a degree or certificate, what’s on the other end. What does it look like? Harper and other community colleges will play a critical role in making that happen.”
Last summer, Motorola Solutions provided mentors to 30 at-risk Harper College freshman enrolled in a summer bridge program. The results from the pilot program are promising: Most of the students tested out of developmental classes and began their college career in credit-bearing courses. Ninety-five percent of them are still enrolled at Harper today.
Joining Brown at the meeting, held at Harper's Wojcik Conference Center, was Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges. Brown and Bumphus are leaders in the Skills for America’s Future initiative, which encourages closer partnerships between employers and community colleges.
“If we are going to solve the skills shortage, it’s going to take community colleges and CEOs talking to each other to identify job trends and skills that are needed now and in the future,” said Bumphus. “Communication is critical to do a better job of aligning education and training programs with the jobs that are out there.”
Brown and Bumphus said they’re encouraging more companies to provide internships to community college students, especially in manufacturing, where the skills shortage is particularly acute. According to a survey from Deloitte & Touche and The Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing companies cannot fill up to 600,000 skilled positions, even as unemployment rates remain at record levels.
"We’re going to see employment-based learning as a new model going forward,” said Harper College President Dr. Kenneth Ender. “It’s a powerful tool for getting people on the path to good middle skills jobs, but it’s going to require a closer partnership between community colleges and local companies.”
Under a new regional workforce initiative, Harper, other local community colleges and local business leaders are currently recruiting 50 companies to provide internships which will be incorporated into a new workforce certificate program. If the student performs well during the internship and in class, they can be hired directly by the company that gave them the internship.
Brown believes workforce training initiatives started locally between community colleges and nearby employers have the best chance to succeed.
“The way to solve the job skills problem is local, community, and neighbor up, not federal and macro down,” Brown said. “At the end of the day we have to lock arms locally. To the extent my company can improve access to education and hope and jobs, that is what we will do.”