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Partnering to Improve Workplace Readiness and Prepare the Workforce of the Future

Partnering to Improve Workplace Readiness and Prepare the Workforce of the Future
Workforce partnerships are crucial for institutions that want to provide their graduates with pathways directly from the classroom into a family-wage job or into an advanced degree program.

Today, the higher education industry is facing a crisis of confidence. Increasingly, employers are saying that higher education graduates are unprepared for the workforce, and colleges and universities are being blamed for a lack of workforce relevance. All of this is coming from a growing gap between those who are looking for work and the jobs that are on the market. In recent years, it has become imperative for higher education institutions to work to close that gap, and forming partnerships with the private sector is one of the most effective ways to do that.

Since 1993, Ivy Tech Community College (Ivy Tech) has worked in partnership with Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees (JATC), the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (IDWD) and the federal Department of Labor-Office of Apprenticeship (USDOL) to create a national model for how institutions of higher education and apprenticeship programs can work together.

Ivy Tech began a pilot Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree program with four apprenticeship programs and has since expanded it to partner with 15 trades at 62 worksites. The primary objective of the degree program is to elevate the academic recognition and maintain a well-trained and skilled workforce for the unionized construction industry. For nearly 20 years, the Building Trades apprenticeship degree program has prepared countless numbers of participants for successful trades careers. Combining the strengths of higher education and the apprenticeship programs leads to outstanding educational outcomes. The program provides for an educational path of upward mobility that benefits all involved.

Construction workers in Indiana have a program specifically designed to meet the academic and technical training needs of the union construction industry. Ivy Tech has taken these partnerships to a new level of cooperation. Ivy Tech has developed a fundamentally different philosophy on how employees in the union construction industry can earn college credit and, eventually, an AAS degree, with the potential for a bachelor’s degree later on. Many JATCs outside Indiana have reached out to accreditation centers like the American Council on Higher Education (ACE) and received approximately 20 to 30 college credits for following the specific trades’ national curriculum. In direct contrast to those opportunities, the Ivy Tech AAS degree is completed concurrently as the apprentice completes the four- or five-year apprenticeship program. As a result of this partnership, hundreds of tradespersons annually, and more than 8,000 participants throughout the life of this program, have earned an associate degree from Ivy Tech.

Indiana tradespersons wishing to pursue a bachelor’s degree have multiple options available to articulate the credits earned at Ivy Tech. Graduates from this program are well positioned to continue their education and assume leadership roles in their careers.

The IDWD supplements the financial investments of the union contractors and union workers. The annual grant they provide is intended to fund a portion of educational costs associated with the technical and academic training provided to apprentices and journeypersons by the JATC. This grant also includes funds to offer upgrade courses and certifications to employees to make them more employable.

Continuing these partnerships is an important way to strengthen and expand the availability of a productive workforce in Indiana. The exceptional quality of this type of training assists union construction companies in acquiring a highly-skilled and productive workforce in this competitive industry. The union construction industry is totally committed to training new employees and upgrading the skills of current employees. Labor and management both agree to, and understand the need for, a more skilled, better educated and more productive workforce. The additional academic experience available to these union workers provides them with most of the training needed for upward mobility in the organizations involved in this partnership.

The partners in this academic endeavor concur that this arrangement is a win-win situation. The IDWD gets a return on its investment by reporting increases in metrics to the USDOL, and by helping to mitigate unemployment in the state. ICHE is able to report a dramatic increase in the number of associate degrees awarded to Indiana residents, and those numbers help the state reach its goal of 60 percent of Hoosiers attaining a college degree. The USDOL meets the Obama Administration’s goal of expanding the role of community colleges in workforce training and the number of Americans with a college degree. The JATCs and Ivy Tech are both experiencing significant gains in national recognition, academic improvements, funding, and, most importantly, improving the lives of tradespersons in Indiana.

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