Nov. 17, 2020 - The following article was written by CWDC Learning and Development Consultant Paula Gumina.
The speed at which the economy is changing is unprecedented. At the same time, schools are adapting to new learning models online and workforce systems are shifting between remote and in-person services. Agility and innovation are necessary as the labor market in Colorado continues to evolve. Work-based learning is one effective strategy that businesses can utilize in partnership with education and training providers to meet their evolving talent development needs. It is a strategy that requires partnership and community building, and it brings interconnectedness and integration to Colorado communities who need it now more than ever.
Work-based learning is a continuum of activities that take place, in part or in whole, in the workplace, to prepare talent. In Colorado, the Work-based Learning Continuum is a visual representation of work-based learning activities ranging from “learning about work” to “learning at work.” On the “Learning About Work” side of the continuum the activities listed take place mostly in school settings and expose individuals to what jobs and businesses are in their communities. Apprenticeships and other activities on the right side of the continuum require greater levels of business leadership and provide a higher return on investment for businesses. Apprenticeships, for example, give businesses the opportunity to train individuals in the specific skills needed for specific jobs and fill future talent pools with candidates primed and ready to hit the ground running their first day on the job.
Work-based learning activities in Colorado have had significant impacts on the businesses, public partners, and participants involved. Many communities have been successful in offering work-based learning programs through local workforce centers, in higher education institutions, and in career and technical education programs at the local high school, among others. These stand-alone programs deliver benefits to workers and the business involved and create more streamlined opportunities for students and job seekers. When partners coordinate and collaborate across a city, region, or even an entire industry sector, work-based learning can maximize the use of resources, reduce duplication, and make it easier for businesses to effectively fill their talent gaps.
A great example of this is Centura Health’s apprenticeship program. Interested initially in partnering with Arapahoe Community College and a committed cadre of partners including workforce development to design a medical assistant apprenticeship program, Centura Health realized their impacts and efficiencies could be maximized by designing and implementing a multi-region program for their clinics in several locations. Arapahoe Community College reached out to the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) and other colleges to collaborate and ultimately deliver what Centura identified as a talent development need. Through this effort in collaboration, community college partners were able to develop and share resources, and Centura benefitted from consistent practices and a consistent apprenticeship experience with multiple colleges throughout the state. Local workforce centers also joined in the collaboration through recruitment and funding. With a shared vision across the region of increasing a qualified workforce for the healthcare industry, government, education and industry partners leveraged funding, and multiple instructional modalities to build a competency framework, and create a talent pipeline ecosystem.
Building a shared table for work-based learning partnerships isn’t easy, but do not be discouraged. Challenges are more easily overcome when shared. Yes, it takes time, commitment, patience, and alignment to build the necessary understanding and trust across businesses, education institutions, and workforce systems, but you are not in it alone. The Thriving Work-based Learning Community Assessment provides a framework for partners to evaluate their current work-based learning activities and where they can strengthen their shared understanding across partners, improve strategies for greater impacts, and continue toward shared talent development goals.
Connect with a Sector Partnership
Colorado is also fortunate to have sector partnerships across the state to support and facilitate shared strategies and goals. Sector partnerships are public/private partnerships led by businesses from the same industry and in a shared labor market region, who work with public partners and community organizations to address workforce and other competitive needs of their industry - an established foundation to set shared strategies for talent development. When faced with complex challenges and highly volatile and rapidly changing environments, sector partnerships can leverage industry and public partners to share the management of pivots and shifts in the regional economic landscape. Talent development is a complex challenge that sector partnerships can mobilize to address with work-based learning strategies that meet their specific industry needs.
Sector partnerships put businesses in the driver's seat for work-based learning activities by brokering business-identified needs with public partners to access students and job seekers, curriculum, and training. In northern Colorado, this brokering is occurring through the Larimer Work-based Learning Alliance -- a collaboration of public partners that share the goal of removing barriers and sharing resources to support local businesses in developing a robust and qualified pipeline of candidates to meet workforce needs.
In Larimer County, public partners let businesses take the lead in identifying challenges and the public partners step up or step back depending on what is needed. Thinking even more broadly across public partners, where it is not just the coordination of partners but the collaboration to provide integrated work-based learning experiences that build off one another, will yield even greater impacts for the region. Leveraging funding opportunities, for example, that support work-based learning activities across partners in the region, regardless of fiscal agent, can support shared goals and meet shared challenges together. In the earlier example of Centura’s Health’s partnership, the Colorado Community College System was able to leverage funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to expand the apprenticeship model across Colorado and with the entire CCCS system and health care industry partners. Employers with less than 50 employees qualified for wage subsidies through this grant up to $20,000 per apprentice.
Working toward shared goals as a community or region requires a breadth and depth of understanding of the economic and workforce landscape, the partners sitting around the table, and the participants in the programming. Empathy building and a shift in mental models are just a few of the ways communities can support the unanchoring of long standing and complex silos and systems to better support talent development efforts through work-based learning activities.
In sharing the responsibility for sector needs across public and business partners there lies an opportunity to affect long lasting change for local communities. Explore what is possible, get involved, assess your community readiness for taking the next step, learn more about partnership strategies, and consider applying for training and consultation to support alignment and affect economic growth in your community.
1. Get connected with a sector partnership.
2. Learn more about work-based learning.
Successful work-based learning initiatives require a community working together to address the evolving needs of businesses and create a labor force with a flexible and continuous approach to developing and upgrading skills. Businesses need to partner with educational entities to design and deliver curriculum, workforce centers have a pool of talent ready to connect to opportunities, and economic developers understand what industries need people and how to attract new companies through training programs.
Assess your community’s work-based learning programs and use the Thriving Work-based Learning Community Assessment to consider opportunities for greater alignment and growth.
Sign-up for a Work-based Learning Incubator webinar and join in with others who are just beginning to explore work-based learning and aligning partners to make greater impacts.
3. Connect to talent development strategies proven successful for Colorado businesses.
In response to requests from businesses, the CWDC created the Talent Development Playbook to help businesses hire, train, and keep talented employees and identify and implement the talent development strategies that best meet their needs.
The October 2020 release of the Talent Development Playbook and accompanying webinar cover the power of partnerships in Partnering for Success.
4. Review tools and technical assistance opportunities to support alignment and economic growth.
The CWDC offers a variety of resources to support Colorado's talent development network. Learn more about training and technical assistance opportunities currently open for applications, guides and frameworks as well as communities of practice to determine where and how you can align across talent development partners.