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The New Workforce Professionals Academy: Cultivating the Next Generation of Workforce Leaders

The EvoLLLution | The New Workforce Professionals Academy: Cultivating the Next Generation of Workforce Leaders
Keeping up with a rapidly-changing labor market requires leadership of workforce development organizations to be nimble, flexible and collaborative. Of course, building these skills doesn’t just happen over a single conference—it takes time and conscious effort.

The Problem

With all sectors of American business and industry struggling to find qualified employees, most rely on colleges and other training organizations to educate their workforce. Concomitantly, the process of education and training has become more complex: The population is more diverse, the training is more advanced, the industries’ needs are more unique and the costs of providing education and training are more expensive (Graham, 2017).

Invariably, the workforce development field requires strong, committed and capable leaders who are not only able to lead their own organizations, but who can also work collaboratively to build effective workforce systems. Workforce development professionals must meet the challenges inherent in bringing educators, community-based organizations, workforce entities and companies together to solve complex workforce needs.

However, community colleges, more often than not, reject private sector talent management strategies and neglect to develop their own pipeline of leaders. Professional development opportunities tend to involve one-off conference participation, leaving new workforce education professionals ill-prepared to navigate the increasingly complex workforce ecosystem.

This lack of professional development opportunities for workforce professionals has a negative impact on the field. As the increasing rate of economic and technology change forces workers and students to learn new skills, a dearth of well-trained workforce education professionals coordinating across the workforce ecosystem impacts program design, curriculum development, engagement of business and industry and, ultimately, student success.

In 2005, the American Association of Community Colleges identified six Competencies for Community College Leaders: Organizational strategy, resource management, communication, collaboration, community college advocacy and professionalism. Although these competencies are germane to all levels of leadership, they are not specifically designated for new workforce education professionals.

The Solution

In response to this problem, The National Council for Workforce Education (NCWE) developed the New Workforce Professionals Academy. The Academy, piloted in 2017, was designed to advance knowledge and skill development for community college workforce education professionals who are relatively new to the field of workforce education. In September 2018, NCWE accepted the second cohort of workforce professionals into the Academy.

The Academy curriculum was designed and delivered by senior leaders and practitioners in workforce education. All of these individuals came up through the ranks of workforce education and spent well over 20 years in the field. Because the workforce system is so complex and diverse, the curriculum focused on non-credit workforce education, credit career and technical education programs (CTE), and non-credit basic skills education integrated with technical skill training.

Through well-designed, structured activities, Academy participants learn how to:

  • Improve communication across the many departments at the college, breaking down internal silos;
  • Improve communication with external partners;
  • Engage more effectively with employers;
  • Improve external partnerships so that the college can more effectively engage with workforce boards, community-based organizations, chambers, economic development agencies and other organizations in their community;
  • Utilize a business plan/model to develop programs and ensure the fiscal viability of their department within the college;
  • Gain an increased awareness of the types of programs necessary to meet the needs of all learners in their community;
  • Design and effectively review programs;
  • Recognize how and why culture and external and internal governance matters;
  • Effectively link non-credit training programs and certifications to credit career pathways so that learners and workers can upskill, maintain currency and remain life-long learners in the gig economy;
  • Understand data and data analytics, and improve how colleges utilize data and analytical tools in decision-making;
  • Attain external funding to support workforce programs and improved resource development; and,
  • Incorporate goal setting and measurements of effectiveness.

Participants apply for the Academy in a two-step process. Colleges nominate participants who are new to the profession, as well people they feel possess the requisite skills to develop into workforce leaders. During the application process, the college must sign a statement that articulates that they are going to support their nominee, both financially and by giving them the time necessary to participate in Academy activities. The nominee completes an application comprised of a series of questions to ascertain their knowledge base and their professional goals. Because NCWE is committed to equity and diversity in workforce education, the selection process includes an analysis of the diversity of the applicants, using several criteria including race, ethnicity, age, gender, credit workforce education, non-credit workforce education, college size and college location.

The end goal is to develop workforce education leaders who are knowledgeable, skilled and committed to improving the ways in which community colleges function in this ever-changing workforce environment. Thus, the Academy is designed around several professional development activities, including peer-learning, networking, mentoring and interaction with well-respected workforce practitioners. Over a nine-month period, participants engage in five structured activities.

Activity #1

The Academy begins with one day of training prior to the NCWE Annual Conference, followed by two days attending workshops and keynote sessions at the conference. To reinforce the power of peer learning, participants then meet for half a day after the conference. This is an opportunity for participants to further engage with each other and debrief by discussing promising practices and lessons learned at the conference.

Activity #2

Mentorship is a vital component of professional development. It is a relationship in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person works with a less experienced or knowledgeable person to talk through questions and issues of interest to the participant. Participants are assigned a mentor from the NCWE Board of Directors, and are paired with their mentor based on two criteria: first, their professional goals; and second, whether they are employed in credit or non-credit workforce education.

A NCWE board member trains the mentors and monitors their progress, supporting them with issues or concerns that arise over the course of the nine month mentorship. Given that not all mentoring relationships are alike, the mentoring activities will be determined by the mentor and the mentee. At a minimum, mentors are asked to engage with their mentee at least once a month. Most importantly, the mentor serves as both a professional guide and as someone external from the participant’s institution who can assist the mentee in solving problems and link them to other resources to resolve issues or complete projects.

Activity #3

Three webinars occur between Activity #1 and the final on-site training. Academy participants assist in determining the webinar topics, which are often based on a desire to expand on a topic covered in a conference workshop or hear other perspectives on emerging trends.

Activities #4 and #5

The high points of the Academy activities are site visits to two flagship community college workforce development programs. These site visits are designed to expose participants to the full array of programming, nuances, and variability of workforce training and education programs. NCWE has identified 20 “flagship” colleges across the country who, by reputation and action, are considered leader colleges in CTE or non-credit workforce education. These colleges are long-term NCWE members who have proven their excellence through publications and presentations at NCWE conference.

Accordingly, one site visit emphasizes credit workforce training, while the other focuses on non-credit workforce training. During these site visits, Academy participants will learn valuable lessons and promising practices that they can bring back to their own institutions. The lessons learned will inform their work as they develop into future professional workforce development leaders.

In September 2018, NCWE received funding from the ECMC Foundation to support the Academy. This funding lasts for two years and will support 36 Academy participants over the course of the next two years.

Academy Evaluation

The pilot proved to be very successful, with 13 participants completing the program. During the final site visit, participants joined a debrief session where they discussed how the Academy has impacted their professional development and to provide feedback and critique of the pilot year activities. All participants appreciated their experience at Academy, and felt they had learned more than they expected. Since the completion of the pilot year, three participants have received promotions. Therefore, based on the results of the first year, including the feedback from pilot participants, NCWE is ready to fine-tune the curriculum and expand the Academy to include 18 participants per year over the next two years.

Moving forward, with the assistance of a third-party evaluator, NCWE will evaluate the Academy and the progress of participants to ascertain their skill level and knowledge base progress. For the next two cohorts, the Education and Employment Research Center (EERC) at Rutgers University will conduct an evaluation of the Academy, including both formative and summative components. The evaluation will focus on gathering information and providing feedback throughout the project to help guide improvements. It will examine participants’ experiences in the program, their interactions with mentors, their views of leadership, their satisfaction with the program and their suggestions for improvement. EERC will create and field online surveys for participants at crucial points during their time at the Academy. EERC will conduct surveys at the end of each training and provide NCWE with results and suggestions to improve subsequent trainings. At the end of the Academy activities, EERC will conduct a final survey.


Community colleges serve as the premier workforce development providers in the nation. To continue in this role, we must guarantee that our own workforce remains strong and well prepared. Through its New Workforce Professionals Academy, the National Council for Workforce Education is committed to educating and mentoring the future leaders and practitioners in community college workforce education and training so that they can better serve the needs of all sectors of the business community.

Taken as a whole, the Academy activities increase the knowledge base and leadership skills of new workforce professionals, helping them attain the acumen and skills to achieve success in workforce education and advance more quickly as future leaders.

To learn more about the New Workforce Professionals Academy, please visit

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The Economist Intelligence Unit (2014). “Closing the skills gap: Companies and colleges collaborating for change.” Sponsored by Lumina Foundation. Retrieved from

Graham, R. (2017, Feb. 23). “The retraining paradox.” The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from

Chicago Metropolitan Agency of Planning (2010, October). “Recommendation 5: Improve education and workforce development.” Go to 2040: Comprehensive regional plan. Retrieved from

American Association of Community Colleges (2013). “AACC core competencies for community college leaders (2nd edition).” AACC Leadership Suite. Retrieved from

American Association of State Colleges and Universities (2016). “Closing the gap: Leadership development and succession planning in public higher education.” Sponsored by the TIAA Institute. Retrieved from

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