By Gretchen Mullin-Sawicki, NHTI president
Community colleges are synonymous with workforce development. If you have a workforce need, the first place your company should turn is your local community college.
But why? Postsecondary workforce development is one of the major innovations and missions of community colleges. In our workforce approach, our curriculum is driven by the needs of local industry; course delivery systems are flexible to meet the needs of students and companies; and students experience work, project-based, and classroom learning. It is an ideal situation both for employers who can hire trained graduates to meet specific workforce needs and our students, whose employment is in high demand. Additionally, New Hampshire is the top state in the Northeast for workforce development.
At its inception, the community college workforce focus was not an intentional product of federal policy or an educational blueprint; rather, “it originates from local community activists who stimulated the fundamental ‘DNA’ of the community college to respond to students and workers in the community who had to obtain skills to meet the needs of local industry”(2019, Jacobs, James. “The Evolving Mission of Workforce Development in the Community College Community College Research Center” (CCRC) 6). These activists inspired a lean workforce strategy that focused on local needs and built a network of institutions that responded to a national workforce agenda.
While other countries established work-based learning through apprenticeships to increase employment skills, the U.S. used community colleges as the source for workplace learning. Community colleges, known for our ability to nimbly implement best practices, now also offer pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships as our portfolio of programs expand; however, at the very beginning, community colleges were built to respond to employers’ skill requirements and students’ concern for employment. In fact, in the post-World War II period, the occupational mission of the community college was solidified on the national level through efforts such as the G.I. Bill, which funded college for veterans. Specifically, the President’s Commission on Higher 3 Education called for the formation of more community colleges to meet the needs of the economy through employment training in areas as far reaching as hotel and restaurant managers, real estate, automotive, electrical technicians, dental hygienists, and nurses’ aides (Grubb & Lazerson, 2004, p. 87).
With our roots embedded in workforce development, it is second nature for NHTI to align and respond to changing workforce needs. Armed with data reports and industry advisory board experts, we actively build curriculum with workforce partners, adapt schedules to fit into second or third shifts, and invite industry onto our boards and into our classrooms. Although our colleges also educate students to transfer to 4-year schools, 70% of our students go directly into the workforce and into well-paying, family-sustaining careers.
Workforce development is the blood of community colleges while our students will always be our heart!