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Common-Threads from CLNA Interviews


Over the past two years, Futures Research conducted hundreds of visioning interviews with key stakeholders of Washington State community college workforce education programs. Organized into a series of projects, the focus of these interviews was on the imagined future of a specific community college’s role in workforce development. This was part of a process known as the “Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment” (CLNA), a requirement for the Perkins V grant recipients. Results from these interviews informed the “Desired State Outcomes” for these colleges’ CLNA Plans. 

Looking across the findings from these projects, there are many common-threads and overlapping observations. Below are three achievable opportunities to significantly improve the responsive value of workforce education programs.

1. Translate Value

While exploring the language of a college’s regional workforce ecosystem, it became clear that significant value is getting lost in translation between job markets, college programs, and prospective students. The value lost is on several levels:

  1. The language of learning outcomes for many workforce programs is not strongly aligned with either:
    1. current job postings for SOC-targeted occupations, or
    2. position descriptions of graduates employed in a related field.
  2. The language of the college’s recruitment outreach is not strongly aligned with either:
    1. the interests or perceived-needs of high school students, or
    2. the way high school staff convey the value of workforce programs to students.

The implications of not aligning language with industry or high schools includes low enrollment, low job-placement of graduates, and perpetuation stigmas regarding workforce education programs. Ideally there should be a thru-ness of language between the careers high school students seek and the jobs graduates of workforce programs attain.

2. Empower Faculty with Workforce Data

There are some excellent data tools available to workforce educators. These tools can be used to refine curricula and assessments, explore emerging occupation trends, track employment success of graduates, and strengthen the scope and focus of their program. Some faculty do access and use these data tools; however, progress is needed to connect more faculty with workforce data in a meaningful and acceptable way. There are several clear barriers:

  • Awareness among faculty of these tools
  • Convenient access to the tools
  • Knowledge of how to query, explore, and apply the data
  • Resistance to add “one more thing” to workload

A few developments could significantly empower faculty to access, explore, and benefit from workforce data, including:

  1. Simplify the interfaces
  2. Demonstrate specific benefits
  3. Provide training, support, incentive (time or $)

3. Define Roles

When you look at a workforce education program, there are three distinct stakeholder types. 

  1. Students
  2. Faculty & Staff
  3. Employers

Each type sees the program differently, each has unique needs to be met, and each relies on the others to be successful. There are strong interdependencies among these stakeholders in the workforce development dynamic. In many ways, the Faculty & Staff are in between Students and Employers, juggling several layers of nested goals:

  • 1. The overall goal is connecting graduates with living wage jobs in careers, which is supported by 
    • 1.a.   the goal of student learning success, which is supported by
      • 1.a.i.   the goal of recruiting high school graduates and adult learners.

Two key roles in the workforce development dynamic consistently appear to be inadequately supported and often without clear ownership: 

  • Student recruitment (Goal 1.a.i) and 
  • Graduate employment (Goal 1)

Every community college involved in these CLNA projects have “offices, staff, and strategies” focused on recruitment and employment, but the progress toward these goals is often weak. A possible solution is to motivate external partners to do more. Simple to say and harder to do, workforce education programs could develop and promote effective and sustainable roles for:

  • High schools to accurately, adequately, and without stigma inform students and their families about the scope, opportunities, and value of workforce education programs
  • Employers to add value to recruitment activities and classroom learning and workplace learning opportunities
  • Industry and community organizations to build and maintain bridges between program graduates and jobs

Final Thoughts

These three opportunities appear to be within the control of the community colleges. In fact, many colleges are already pursuing elements of these suggestions as evidenced by the “Desired State Outcomes” appearing in many CLNA plans. The success of these opportunities will likely rely on the way they’re applied. Based on analyzed insights gleaned from the interview data, new approaches to old problems might best be implemented as “instead of” solutions rather than “in addition to.”