Laying the Foundation for a Strong Economy

Industry-Education Partnerships
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Over the last ten years, the economy has drastically changed, and industries are being forced to evolve to adapt to new challenges. Education is no different, as both a market sector and as the source of skills and workforce training. Unlike many other industries and sectors, education has been slow to adapt and as such, has contributed to the skills gap in the economy.
North America is experiencing a significant deficit of skilled labour while universities continue to produce graduates at an exceptional rate. These degree holders are highly-educated but under-skilled for many of the jobs that are available. With no jobs available to meet these graduates’ qualifications and expectations, unemployment and underemployment rates continue to grow.

In making this point, the intention is not to dismiss the pursuit of higher education but rather to indicate the value of applied learning that is offered at the college level. Community college is increasingly becoming the path to secure, high-paying careers. It is worth noting that only one-fifth of jobs today require a four-year university degree.

University graduates commonly accept precarious work and contract employment, resulting in a highly-educated underemployed population. College programs offer a unique balance of academic and experiential learning that works together to develop the skills and aptitude required by employers today.

Another point of consideration in light of the changing nature of the economy is the creation of new titles and positions within growing and emerging sectors. For instance, non-traditional careers in social media or the multitude of career options in the expanded fields of data and IT are growing in numbers but lack the workforce to support them.

These fields require new training programs that will help develop a labour pool from which they can draw, and community college is the likeliest path to achieving success. College classrooms prove to be far more dynamic than a typical lecture-style liberal-arts institution.

Community colleges have the ability to adapt to the changing economy and serve a wider range of community members. In turn, this enables higher rates of educational attainment and a more skilled future workforce that satisfies labour market demands. Colleges, in many cases, offer viable opportunities for workforce re-education and re-training to meet the changing needs of employers. Community colleges foster innovation and support the development of innovative, entrepreneurial graduates with transferrable skills.

A survey about the current state and effectiveness of higher education was conducted by IBM Institute for Business Value and administered to a group of academic and industry representatives. The survey’s results showed that fifty-one percent of respondents believe that students are being failed by the current system, while sixty percent feel that the needs of industry aren’t being met as well.

Similarly, seventy-one percent of corporate recruiters have experienced challenges in securing graduates with adequate practical experience. Many academic programs lack experience-based learning opportunities, while many students are faced with a hectic work-life balance that does not allow for both curricular and extra-curricular participation and development.

Fifty-seven percent of academic and industry respondents agree that collaboration and partnership can help higher learning to be more effective. Of those who were surveyed, fifty-six percent are of the belief that industry consultation and collaboration would be most effective if participation occurred during the program and curriculum development process.

Industry and post-secondary institutions stand to gain significantly through collaborations that are directed at a common goal. Partnerships can include various stakeholders such as various businesses, industry bodies, community-based organizations, colleges, universities, research institutes, public agencies, or any other stakeholder group. When these entities come together to develop students with an industry-specific, targeted curriculum, demands for skilled labour can be addressed and will likely result in a good return on investment for all partners.

This collaborative approach to teaching and learning has been referred to as the ‘new vocationalism’ and aims to foster a learning environment that produces more well-rounded graduates. In this approach, there is a focus on both the technical skill of the future worker as well as the development of an engaged and knowledgeable member of the community.

‘New vocationalism’ leverages the combined resources of the partners to enrich a student’s learning experience through real world, applied, work-based experiences. These efforts are leading the way in institutional innovation. Innovation leads to increased competitiveness, not only for the student and the institution but also for the company, the industry and the economy as a whole. Industry-education partnerships are most effective when governments actively participate and support them.

Any industry-education partnership must endeavour to satisfy each partner’s needs. Operating parameters can be achieved through extensive strategic planning sessions between the partners to establish clear roles and responsibilities. What and how should each partner contribute in order to achieve the common goal of the partnership?

Both students and the institution benefit from the contributions of the industry partner. These contributions take the form of human resources, financial support, investments in the technology, equipment and facilities of the institution or in-kind support and mentorship, co-ops, internships and career opportunities for students upon graduation.

Companies benefit from the R&D capacity of the institution and achieve gain great return on investment when hiring a trained, highly-skilled employee who has already developed a brand loyalty through the company’s support of the program. Companies receive advantages from marketing and advertising opportunities as well.

An example of a strong industry-education partnership is Champlain College, featured in the June, 2016 issue of Business in Focus. Champlain caters to working professionals and has adopted innovative and highly relevant programs to suit the needs of the evolving economy. Champlain and its partners are addressing the changing nature of work through collaborations that are having exceptional results.

The college emphasizes a balance of academic excellence and experience which is supported by on-campus resources such as the new Center for Communications and Creative Media.

Supporting growth and modernization at Champlain is done through the adoption of innovative programs and technology based courses such as Cybersecurity are helping to mould students into the ideal workforce.

Champlain has 2 100 traditional undergraduate, 1 750 online adult undergraduate and 920 graduate students. Work is done to engage students while maintaining a focus on students’ work-life balance. Champlain has a robust support structure to ensure student success.

Successful partnerships depend on the establishment of best practices that will transform the curriculum, campus, available resources and technology, by installing the necessary systems of support and making them available for students. These partnerships often revolutionize the delivery methods used to educate and train.

Community colleges are better equipped to provide remedial education and developmental learning to support a wider population in their programs of study. Northern College, featured in the May, 2016 issue of Business in Focus, provides an excellent example of program development with a focus on engaging and empowering non-traditional cohorts to support the workforce needs of the local economy.

Northern College, in partnership with Attawapiskat and DeBeers, upon the discovery of diamonds in Northern Ontario, came to an agreement to support the educational attainment level of the community of Attawapiskat. By empowering and engaging the community, Attawapiskat was able to take better advantage of its impact benefit agreement (IBA) with DeBeers.

Northern College helped Attawapiskat, a community with a traditionally low high school completion rate, provide training and education so that community members could enjoy the benefits of employment with the company. The collaboration was able to improve access to education for the community.

Industry-education partnerships can also serve a greater purpose if integrated with high school curriculum and learning. Many companies and industries are moving in this direction with several successful examples of partnerships and programs being implemented across the United States.

IBM is a leader in industry-education partnerships. In 2011, IBM was responsible for developing the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH). This new pedagogical approach integrates career and technical skills training while emphasizing STEM education.

Students study for six years and, upon completion, are awarded a high school diploma as well as an associate degree. Students benefit greatly from these early stage partnerships through mentorship, career guidance and skills training. Students are likely to secure employment upon graduation as a result.

IBM is also working closely with leading universities in the U.S. and Canada to develop an effective approach to fighting cybercrime. IBM hopes to address a skills shortage in the security industry, which is a field that is showing great promise and future growth.

In Canada, New Brunswick is taking the lead on a cybersecurity initiative, CyberNB, designed to support companies such as Bulletproof Solutions and Sentrant Security with education institutions.

The goal is to increase the provincial IT industry using this initiative as a job creation strategy under Opportunities NB. This will help to mitigate the losses incurred by cybercrime, which are valued at an estimated $400 to $500 billion a year.

Industry-education partnerships stand to transform higher education and can drive relevant curriculum and program development to meet the needs of the economy by developing and using human resources more effectively. It is important for education to evolve and adapt to the needs of industry, and at a time when enrolment is consistently dropping, these institutions stand to benefit a great deal.

Through a successful industry-education partnership, students are prepared and equipped to meet the needs and expectations of employers across industries, serving local and regional economies. Students become more competitive in the labour market as a result, and institutions become more competitive by offering relevant programming and curriculum.

Innovation drives economic competitiveness, and through industry-education partnerships, innovation is fostered. Workforce development, job creation and an increasingly educated, engaged and skilled population have far-reaching impacts and will support economic and social viability long into the future.



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