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The Local Benefits of a Collaborative Postsecondary Ecosystem

The EvoLLLution | The Local Benefits of a Collaborative Postsecondary Ecosystem
By creating a collaborative environment that links educators and employers, cities can identify workforce gaps, enhance economic development, and provide greater opportunities for families to grow.
Postsecondary institutions are an integral part of regional development ecosystems for their local communities. But the link between high schools, postsecondary institutions and local employers isn’t always as strong as it should be. In this interview, Kansas City Mayor David Alvey discusses how the partnership between educators and employers is key to economic development, and points to the role that municipal governments play in creating a system that supports learners through all stages of life.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How do cities benefit when postsecondary institutions collaborate with each other and with industry? 

David Alvey (DA): The primary benefit is that postsecondary institutions bring a lot of institutional weight to the conversation about how to solve the basic problem of building wealth in families by meeting the need for well-trained employees in local and regional businesses.

We make a lot of progress when our anchor postsecondary institutions bring their prestige, their weight and their resources to bear on solving a problem that affects us all. When someone gets left out of the conversation, some aspect of the problem gets overlooked. It’s really important for these institutions to come together to solve problems for the betterment of all.

Evo: So a collaborative postsecondary ecosystem brings new businesses in, but it also strengthens the businesses that already exist within the community? 

DA: Yes and it also strengthens our citizens, because we are providing opportunities for them to grow their skills and earn more income—which ultimately translates into wealth.

It also strengthens our community. In Kansas City, which has relatively higher unemployment than the national average and a lower median income, it’s very important to provide opportunities for people to grow their wealth. That strengthens the city as a whole.

Evo: How can municipal secondary schools play into this collaboration? What impact does a seamless education ecosystem have on the broader community?

DA: You never know where life is going to take you. You might be a kid in high school who decides to go into some specialized trade. You might access the training you need through high school, but let’s say you don’t, and you graduate from high school or you leave high school without the skills you need to acquire the job you want. A seamless system allows you to access the training wherever you are in life. That’s why collaboration is so important, because it enables the system to meet people where they are.

Evo: What are the biggest roadblocks that stand in the way of these kinds of robust collaborations between secondary schools, postsecondary institutions and industry?

DA: You have to have someone or some agency driving the conversation and identifying the needs. They need to bring stakeholders into a regular conversation, problem solve, and come to a common vision and a common strategy. That’s the real struggle: Who steps up to lead? Is it the community college? Is it the public school district? Is it the business community? I don’t know that it matters, but someone has to bring people together on a consistent basis to establish the vision, identify the problems and work towards some solution. I think the hardest part is having someone take the lead in that conversation.

Evo: Do you think municipal governments could serve in that role to help overcome those obstacles, create that common discussion point and incentivize collaboration?

DA: The municipal government could work toward this, but having been in education myself, I think it’s better when that role is taken by someone closer to those who are most directly affected by it. For instance, it could be the businesses community saying, “Hey, we need more people in coding. If we want to continue to develop we need to have this.” They can bring that sense of urgency to the local school district.

Greg Kindle from our Economic Development Council has been driving this conversation, trying to get the school districts and the community college to work together on a workforce development training plan. Our government comes in and identifies gaps—for instance, telling them, “One of the obstacles is transportation for these individuals” or “They don’t have a facility where they can provide training.”

We can help with those kinds of things, but I think that the urgency really comes from the business community, the development community and the schools. They need to be at the center of it. We can come in with what resources we have available, but the people who have the most directly at stake are the ones who ought to drive it, and are the best people to drive it.

Evo: What value can a collaborative education and business environment add to a community?

DA: If collaboration does occur—if it’s constant, consistent and starts solving problems—it tells people that this is a community that is straightforward about what the needs are, what the problems are and what the challenges are. It tells people that this is a community that is willing to come together to create programming to solve those problems. That’s an important message that really helps an economy attract new people.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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