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Creating an Information Systems and Technology Education Pipeline

Analidia Ruiz on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at 12:00:00 am 

The Greater Omaha Chamber is committed to implementing cradle-to-career strategies that strengthen the talent development pipeline for the region’s highest-need industry sectors. Working with key partners from K-12 and higher education institutions, and their Workforce Investment Board, the Chamber is identifying opportunities to build strong curriculum and programs that support their IT sector, and promote available IT-related education and career opportunities.

Interview Participants: Sarah Moylan, Director, Talent and Workforce

Awardee Spotlight

Q: Can you provide some background on how your community began to focus on education attainment and workforce development?

A: The story begins about 5 years ago when the Greater Omaha Chamber received a grant from National Fund for Workforce Solutions. During that time, the state controlled the Workforce Investment Board (WIB), and a lot of decisions weren’t being made from a local perspective. We really wanted to get back to a place where we were directly dealing with the challenges and opportunities that existed in the community. Support from the National Fund enabled us to leverage technical expertise, build capacity within our staff and community partners, and learn from best practices and models other states had utilized in working with their WIBs. Over the next few years, the Chamber worked directly with community partners to create a new non-profit organization outside of the Chamber called Heartland Workforce Solutions. Because of the structure and sustainable system plan put in place through this organization, it eventually regained control of the WIB from the state. From there, we built the American Job Center, a new workforce center serving the region under the banner of Heartland Workforce Solutions. The center houses 15 workforce system partner organizations that provide training and education services. Having these partners and agencies under one roof really streamlines efforts and improves collaboration and communication.

Q: Today, what would you say that your chamber’s most important role is within this body of work?

A: Our main focus is to grow the economy in the Greater Omaha region to help bring prosperity to the people living in our area. To do this strategically, the Chamber has been a leader in convening stakeholders around jobs, labor, and workforce data. Data has been one of the biggest factors driving the decisions and actions of both the Chamber and Heartland Workforce Solutions. We lead with data, and in regards to educational attainment, use data as a platform to help people understand their role in driving change and improving outcomes.  

The role we play as a convener brings groups to the table that would benefit from working together to help build a better education system. Within education there are also lot of partners, such as direct service providers, working with students or adults outside of traditional institutions. Our role has been to solidify a system that’s working together—bringing philanthropy, education, government and private business to the table—to help strengthen the education pipeline.

Q: Can you tell me about your chamber's overall education and workforce development portfolio of work?

A; The chamber is leading a three-pronged strategy to build a cohesive cradle-to-career system, ensuring systems and partners are in alignment from preschool to workforce development.

The first leg of the strategy uses data to realign talent development along the P-16 pipeline in alignment with workforce needs. We convene partners to provide data on where the jobs are and what skills they require, and then work on how to realign programs, such as those focused on Information Technology and STEM, to meet those industry needs. An analysis we conducted of workforce needs for our region showed that our talent supply was not meeting industry demand, specifically in areas of IT and engineering. We had a huge demand for that type of talent, but our post-secondary completion rates in those fields were falling way behind the curve. For example, last year we surveyed 156 companies that are looking to hire over 1400 IT professionals over the next 2 years; and the number of students graduating college with those skills is nowhere near that number. The issue wasn’t that students weren’t graduating, but it was that not enough students were getting into the programs that match workforce needs. Therefore, we looked deeply into the kind of career awareness and exposure students get at a very young age that could lead them into post-secondary STEM focused programs, such as IT.

The second leg of our strategy is to grow and retain talent through career awareness programs and marketing strategies focused on engaging individuals at a young age. The ACCE Lumina Education Attainment Award is helping us expand a career awareness campaign that exposes youth to IT and other STEM careers. Marketing and promotion taking place within the schools helps shift student perceptions about IT careers and directs them to outside opportunities to work alongside IT professionals—such as camps, internships and mentorships. We also host Teacher Internships to build career awareness among students. Forty educators work with twenty participating employers over the course of a week to learn about STEM and IT careers and the kinds of skills needed to land those jobs. (See program video here.) Participating teachers are paid for their time and are required to submit new lesson plans that incorporates what they learned from their internship into their curriculum.  

The third leg of our strategy is to take on an advocacy and public policy role that drives decision-making at the local level. We were at the table advocating for new leadership within our public school system by: 1) recruiting candidates from the community to run for school board positions; and 2) serving on the selection committee for the public school superintendent. We also recently completed a bond proposal for supporting public schools, which our chamber’s board supported and helped pass locally.

Q: What best practices and/or lessons learned can you share with other chamber professionals working on education reform?

A: Having data to drive your strategies and decisions is huge. It changed the way in which we operated and gave us information that everyone could convene around, understand and utilize. Then, it’s important to understand that the power of convening partners around a common issue and finding opportunities to collaborate is far more beneficial and influential than one could possibly realize. Also, quality relationships take time to build and they require maintenance, but they’re huge for our work! Making relationships a focus of your work and being that convener that brings people together is crucial. Lastly, it’s important to respect different perspectives and what everyone brings to the table. Often when trying to influence or advance an education and workforce development issue, stakeholders will have different experiences that represent all sides and shapes of an issue. Many of us are not educators, yet we’re trying to influence what happens in education, so respect is essential when working collaboratively.

For additional chamber-led post-secondary best practices and resources, visit the Higher Education Chamberpedia page
Want to learn more? Contact aruiz@acce.org

Tags: education, higher education, Lumina, Workforce Development

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Partnerships Achieving Bold Goals in Cincinnati

Analidia Ruiz on Monday, June 1, 2015 at 8:00:00 am 

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, among the nation's oldest and largest chambers, is working with the regional United Way to achieve a set of Bold Goals for the community by 2020. With United Way-funded Partners for a Competitive Workforce, the Chamber is helping to develop career pathways to ensure individuals gain the higher skills needed to meet employer demands.

Interview Participants:

  • Mary Stagaman, Executive Director of Agenda 360 and Vice President for Regional Initiatives, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber
  • Janice Urbanik, Executive Director, Partners for a Competitive Workforce

Awardee Spotlight

Q: Can you provide some background on how your community began to focus on education attainment and workforce development?

A: (Janice) In 2001 our region was marked by a time of civil unrest, exacerbated by a lack of employment opportunities for many individuals in our community. Between 2001 and 2008 many regional initiatives sprouted to address the employment issue—some saw success and some did not. During this time, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions was getting ready to expand their funding to new sites across the nation. Community stakeholders saw this opportunity as a systemic approach to addressing skills gap issues that had been lingering in the community for a long time and formed a public-private partnership to apply for those funds. We launched the Greater Cincinnati Workforce Network at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and then in 2011 moved the network to the United Way of Greater Cincinnati for the long-term.  Shortly after, we rebranded and reframed our work as Partners for a Competitive Workforce—an umbrella organization that brings together the region’s workforce efforts and aligns them towards a shared mission.

While this work started because of disparities in the community, we were also consistently hearing from employers who had many open positions but could not find people with the right skills to fill them. Feedback from employers as well as residents in the community became the impetus behind the workforce development focus.

Q: How did your chamber become involved?

A: (Mary) The Chamber was at the table for all the discussions that led up to the creation of the original network. We were deeply engaged in a mayoral initiative at the time called Go Cincinnati (an economic development program to create jobs and grow the local tax base) to create a more strategic approach to workforce development. Since then, we have closely aligned to the work of Partners for a Competitive Workforce (PCW) and their network of intermediaries so that we can continue to get people into the labor force and into sustainable employment. Chamber leadership serves on the Advisory Council for PCW. We also created a talent pipeline manager position to ensure there was alignment with the work PCW is doing in the K-12 system. This helps eliminate the possibility for disconnects at some critical points along the career pathway.  

Q: Can you tell me about your chamber's overall education attainment and workforce development portfolio?

A: (Mary) It is important to note that we are unlike some of the other chambers in this cohort that received support through ACCE’s Lumina Award for Education Attainment. Essentially, our Chamber outsources workforce development; we rely heavily on organizations like PCW to lead the way rather than duplicate their efforts within the Chamber’s operations. We are partners not only in name; we are deeply invested in the work that they do. Furthermore, because we support the Strive Partnership and other members of a cohort using collective impact as a framework for change, it is inherent that we align the work of many organizations—including our colleges, universities and other community partners—to make sure that together we are consistently moving the needle on education attainment.

As a region, we track at about 30 percent bachelor’s degree attainment overall, which is on par with the nation as a whole. However, we know all too well that 30 percent is insufficient for us to remain economically competitive over time. So, we think it is critical to build awareness of the work that needs to be done to increase education attainment.

One specific area of concern is our African American population, for which the bachelor’s degree attainment rate is 15 percent. This is a compelling example of untapped potential in our region that we believe could be developed, grown and leveraged more effectively in a generation or two if we work to help people become more successful—starting with being prepared for kindergarten. 

A: (Janice) The Chamber is deeply involved in a number of community initiatives, and we have a tremendous network of partners all of whom work very closely through the collective impact approach.

In workforce development, we want to increase the number of training programs, workforce readiness programs, etc. to help people achieve gainful employment. Our goal is to move the percentage of individuals gainfully employed from the current 88 percent to 90 percent. You might think that’s only two percentage points, and that’s not much; but that represents 24,000 people, which is going to be a big lift in our community. We strive to work in conjunction with high-need neighborhoods to leverage their assets in order to lift them up commensurate with the goals they have for their communities. We are trying to be very strategic in applying key place-based strategies as well as multi-generational approaches.

Several of the chamber's initiatives have built strong momentum for its goals, including: the Chamber’s regional action plan, Agenda 360 and; the region’s 2020 Jobs Outlook, a shared report that forecasts future workforce opportunities to help guide curriculum and workforce preparation.

Q: How does your chamber and its partners measure/benchmark success?

A: (Mary) Since we are a tri-state region, we measure our topline success across three states: Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. It’s a very complex political landscape that comprises 15 counties and more than 300 jurisdictions. With partners in Northern Kentucky, we started a project five years ago called Regional Indicators, which has become a brand under which we have issued a number of reports. The baseline Regional Indicators Report evaluates the status of the Cincinnati region on 15 key indicators of economic health, which are drawn from consistent and credible sources like the Census, the American Community Survey and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What makes the data particularly valuable is not only seeing how Cincinnati is performing on its own, but how its performance compares against a peer set of 11 other regions that it competes with for people and jobs. We were considered pretty brave when we released the first report in 2010 because Cincinnati was ranked at 10 out of 12 regions at the time. After five years, we have moved up one position in the ranking to 9 out of 12, and have seen considerable improvement in a couple of indicators including knowledge jobs; we are excited about that. The Regional Indicators report has created a really valuable community conversation about how we are stacking up as a region. It creates a sense of urgency to move the needle on the indicators that top-performing regions have in common. One of those is educational attainment.

Q: How are your education and workforce development initiatives funded?

A: (Janice) Our programs are funded by a number of organizations interested in workforce development. The bulk of our operational expenses are covered by funds that are granted to us through the United Way, which is our managing organization, but also from the community foundation and some other private foundations in our region. We get funds to cover programmatic expenses through grants from foundations like Lumina Foundation or from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, which has a Social Innovation Fund grant. We also regularly apply for Department of Labor grants and funds from other local and national funders.

Q: What best practices and/or lessons learned can you share with other chamber professionals working on education reform?

A: (Mary)  The use of consistent, credible data is critical to both knowing if you are making a difference, but also to telling a story in a way that resonates and builds buy-in from different stakeholders. There are certainly qualitative measures of improvement that we want to continue to track, but the more that you can translate the qualitative into the quantitative, the better it tracks especially with the business community—in demonstrating the return on investment for different programs. I think that demonstrating this clearly as you make continuing investments into new programs or new initiatives is critical to getting continued funding and wide-spread community support. Underscoring both the mission (i.e. what we’re trying to achieve) and really good metrics is critical to success.

 For additional chamber-led post-secondary best practices and resources, visit the Higher Education Chamberpedia page
Want to learn more? Contact aruiz@acce.org

 

Tags: education, higher education, Lumina, Workforce Development

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