By Susan Chan Shifflett, Project Manager, TAACCCT Initiative, American Association of Community Colleges 

“I have climbed into the silo,” said Mark Mattke, who holds the unique dual positions of CEO of the Spokane Area Work Development Corporation (WDC) and chief workforce officer of the Community Colleges of Spokane. Mattke spoke on the panel, “So Long, Silos: Building Strategic Alliances between Colleges and Workforce Boards,” held on March 25 at the annual National Association of Workforce Boards Forum. The panel also served as the launch event for a new U.S. Department of Labor publication, Powerhouse Partnerships, that illustrates the lessons learned by eight community college / workforce board partnerships, some of which emerged from DOL’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program—a nearly $2 billion workforce development investment over a seven-year period in the nation’s community college system.

Mattke was joined by co-panelists Sanjay Rai, senior vice president for academic services at Montgomery College, and Waldy Salazar, manager at the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. The three panelists addressed how their college’s TAACCCT grants helped to catalyze new alliances between community colleges and their workforce boards.

Spokane, Washington: Housed Together, Braiding Resources

Mattke holds one of the few positions in the nation representing both a local workforce board and community college. The Spokane Area WDC office is, in fact, uniquely housed on the community college campus. “There’s a lot of synergy and osmosis by being in the same space,” said Mattke. “The goal is to sing from the same sheet.”

At the height of the Great Recession, Community Colleges of Spokane and the Spokane WDC lead a statewide consortium to secure $20 million in TAACCCT funding to create the Air Washington program to strengthen Washington’s aerospace industry through workforce training. Within three years, Air Washington trained over 4,700 students for jobs in the aerospace industry.

Mattke cited Air Washington as an example where the community college and workforce board came together in “braiding resources,” leveraging respective resources and perspectives, to come together to seek funding. Today, the local board and community college share a set of data and economic analysis around in-demand skills and jobs, wages and benefits, middle-skill credentials, and other tools to inform decision making.

Washington, DC, Metro Area: Recruiting Together

On the other side of the nation, Montgomery College—a school of 60,000 students—is spread across three campuses just three miles from the nation’s capital, which has a knowledge-based economy with a majority of industry jobs in information technology (IT) and cybersecurity.

A lot of jobs over the last 15 years have gone to other parts of the world, leaving behind many displaced workers in the community, said Rai. At the same time, community colleges and workforce boards were hearing from cybersecurity employers that they had tens of thousands of jobs open, but couldn’t find workers with the needed skills to fill the positions. An additional challenge is the breakneck speed at which the industry evolves. To illustrate how quickly the IT industry changes, Rai said that CEOs have told him that they sometimes don’t even know about a product that they will need to create and ship the next month.

A $14.9 million TAACCCT grant supported the development of six state-of-the-art cybersecurity labs and the creation of an accelerated 6-month program. To date over 3,887 students have been trained in Maryland’s cybersecurity programs. Community colleges and workforce boards worked together to recruit participants. Montgomery College had and continues to have an overflow of students ready to enter the program. By working together, the colleges and workforce boards in the consortium have established relationships with over 250 employers across the state, such as Booz Allen Hamilton and Lockheed Martin.

Rai cited a number of tangible success stories of individual students’ lives transformed. One student, who was formerly working as a sous-chef in a Marriott hotel, finished the program and is now running the IT department there. Another student--a single mom who was making $40,000 prior to the program--doubled her salary after completing the program.

New Mexico: “A First for Us”

In New Mexico, a TAACCCT grant brought together community colleges and the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions in what was, said Salazar, “a first for us in New Mexico--a marriage of public workforce system and higher education.” The New Mexico Skill Up Network: Pathways Acceleration in Technology and Healthcare (SUN PATH) program—a partnership that included community colleges, the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, and health care employers—hired job development career coaches working under the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, but housed in the community college. “This was new and challenging because, as you all know, community colleges already have career services, so some saw this as a threat. We had to be very, very careful how we brought this to the table,” said Salazar. By working together, the community colleges and workforce boards were able to draw in more employers.

Salazar said, “What’s exciting is that we now see employers calling the job development coach on a regular basis.” As a result, the workforce boards and community colleges are bringing employers into the classroom to talk about the opportunities at their hospitals. “Now we’ve identified [that] we want to take this [model of cooperation] into other industries—we’re now doing IT, trade, and business—through an additional grant we’ve received.”

In closing, the panelists were asked to each give a final recommendation to the audience comprised mostly of local workforce boards. Rai’s advice to local workforce boards and community colleges: “Focus on outcomes. There’s nothing wrong if students are getting jobs.”