Once the network of relationships described in the previous module has been established, the college is poised to develop strategic partnerships that will achieve the workforce and economic development goals of the community. In focusing on partnerships to enhance labor market responsiveness, each community college needs to set tactical priorities. Considered thinking about where to focus time and energy is part of the standard “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats” (SWOT) analysis that goes into sound strategic planning. Where are the college’s strengths and where are the opportunities in the community? Which industries and companies are most important economically? Which are expanding? Are there other employers, such as government agencies or school systems, for which the college would be an appropriate partner? As presented in earlier modules, identifying opportunities for strategic alliances requires information-gathering and research: looking at data concerning labor market and economic development trends, networking with representatives from the chamber, businesses and other community organizations, fielding surveys, and perhaps conducting a systematic needs analysis.
[begin example of strategic partnering]
Determining the Needs for Strategic Partnering Scott Community College (Iowa) conducted a survey to determine the training and employment needs of area employers and discovered that manufacturers were worried about the skills of their current employees and foresaw a need for nearly 60,000 new and replacement hires by the year 2000. In response, the college partnered with five manufacturers to build the Manufacturing Technology Center to address these skill needs. Ten local manufacturing employers helped develop the curriculum and marketing plan, went to high schools to recruit students, and provided the college with 20 percent of the center’s operating costs. The state provided $1.5 million to build the center. The college is now building another manufacturing center in a nearby county with nine employers and state funds.
The mutual processes of institutional self-evaluation and community assessment – the matching of strengths and opportunities – lead to reasoned decisions by the college leaders about where to focus their efforts. They can then identify and pursue the specific companies and people with whom to partner. They may target particular industries, occupations, or specific corporations. Through extensive networking and needs analysis, the leaders of Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland, for example, identified information technology as a priority area for the college in the business environment and the National Security Agency as a key employer.
[begin example of college re-prioritizing]
Identifying Economic Opportunity Valencia Community College seeks to be a major player in its region’s economic development. Central Florida is a high- employment but relatively low- wage economy. By far the largest employment sector is the hospitality industry, which offers low wages. The college and the community developed a “conscience economy strategy,” deciding no longer to pursue low- wage jobs, but rather to focus on identifying clusters of opportunity for economic development, building on their strengths in healthcare, financial software, and dynamic media fields.
Identifying opportunities and setting priorities also means seriously reflecting on the meaning of “community.” Many community college administrators mentioned that as they explored how to be more responsive, they found their service area expanding. “This region is very interdependent,” observed Robert Templin, the president of Northern Virginia Community College. “Economies know no boundaries, but politics do. We have to think beyond political boundaries.”
Modern community colleges must weigh economic and labor market concerns that go beyond the traditional interests of the college or the immediate needs of local employers. When partnering with economic development organizations, community colleges can contribute to the demand side of the labor market by developing local industry and attracting new business. Through such partnerships, they can address the loss of manufacturing jobs, economic downturns, and the dislocation of workers. These concerns almost always play themselves out on a regional level.
Moreover, the global economy may have implications for even the most geographically isolated college. Information technology is only one example of a growth industry not tied to geographic location. This suggests that the search for strategic partners should not be limited to the usual suspects within the bounds of the local community or county. Many responsive colleges have sought to establish partnerships with companies and other employers on a regional basis, sometimes crossing state lines.
[begin example of partnering with regional employers]
Partnering with Regional Employers Developed in 1996, the Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) Technology Park, located in a renovated mill on a 15.3-acre site, provides lease space for technology-based and light manufacturing companies. Adjacent to Springfield’s downtown central business district, the park houses 15 companies with approximately 950 employees. The Verizon New England Next Step program, a partnership between Verizon and one of its unions, is located in the park. This $8 million, 11 college program trains Verizon employees throughout New England in telecommunications technologies. STCC is the lead college in the program.
Does the college engage in sustained, successful partnerships that are responsive to the labor market?
Do the partnerships in which your college takes part anticipate local economic development and growth?