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What It Takes to Create Short-Term Workforce Programming

High-quality short-term programming requires tight relationships with industry. By tapping into workforce data, employer needs and higher ed resources, institutions can better serve their learners, acquire new ones and foster lifelong learning.

As the talent gap continues to grow, higher ed and industry need to work closer together to meet both employer and learner needs. Today’s learners need high-quality short-term programming to stay relevant and competitive in the job market. In this interview, Michelle Hawley discusses what makes a program high quality, administrative obstacles that can arise in short-term programming and how Maine Community College System is delivering on its promise to students.  

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is it important for higher ed leaders to focus on providing more high-quality short-term trainings or offerings?

Michelle Hawley (MH): Many adults don’t see themselves as students, or high school students who don’t see themselves as post-secondary students. Short-term trainings allow them to focus on technical skills they’re looking to develop. These learners need an opportunity to attain a credential in under a year and then enter the workforce. It’s essential to consider building stackable short-term trainings so people can take advantage of these programs. The result being they can build upon it if they choose to.

Evo: What makes a high-quality short-term program?

MH: Competency-based, experiential programs that are built with industry partners and assess the participants to provide a consistent product (i.e., the student) are key. There must be predictive validity to it. That student going into the workforce represents the quality of the education they receive because employers are buying into the student and training, they have. Employers will likely continue their relationship and help us by recruiting the program completers that we’re putting into the pipeline.

Evo: How is Maine Community College System delivering on short-term offerings?

MH: The colleges do an excellent job of providing technical skills-based training that’s typically in non-credit divisions. We’re also incorporating credit into these programs in addition to offering industry-recognized certifications and licensure. So, some of these trainings fold into an associate degree through alternative credit.

From an operational standpoint, we’re doing what most colleges aren’t considering, which is essentially providing funding for third-party programming. We have organizations that have always used non-community college training vendors. So, we’re brokering those trainings. They’re putting in an application for grant funding, providing us with information relating to the training topic, employee demographics, completions, and follow-up survey data. We’re building a course, registering the employee, and looking at survey data on learner experience and success rates of these brokered trainings. These trainings are geared specifically toward incumbent frontline workers.

Having the capacity to tap into the trainings resources that are out there and the data behind them is going to help us better understand the trends that can inform future decisions for our workforce divisions and academic programming.

Evo: What are some administrative or operational obstacles that come with offering short-term programming?

MH: Coming from a non-credit division, the student information systems we have are really only geared toward academic programming. To work from a non-credit division and have short-term training along with credit training, and trying to align the two can be a challenge. So, we’ve built upon what we had available through our student information system through a portal. Students can register for programming and are brought through that way. With our third-party work, we’ve created a database for that purpose.

As part of the grant, we provide training records that demonstrate the completion of a program, which the learner and employer can access. We’re tying the relationship between an employee’s registration in a course to the compact member (employer) to provide this training record. Keeping that relationship data straightforward is critical.

Evo: What are some best practices or lessons learned from overcoming administrative obstacles?

MH: Best-laid plans—you don’t know until you’re actually in the middle of the work. After the implementation of our online forms that go into our home-built database, we came to understand some shortfalls. We needed to create forms that would help to manage data. So, we had to add one to approve and maintain third-party vendors. We also had to add a form to manage the funding approvals to permit the cancellation of grants, adding of participants, and changes in funding.

We also have a file backup process to permit registrations in our system. We had to switch up our course nomenclature to help us to distinguish between large organizations having multiple funding approvals for different groups of employees in our filing system so that we could trace the approved for the same program employees to the appropriate section of a course. This is crucial for accurate closeouts of both Compact Member grant approvals for third-party and our college trainings.

Evo: How has Maine Community College System continuing to develop short-term programming and build strong relationships with employers to help the community?

MH: We have workforce development coordinators throughout the state who are assigned to territories. We have workforce divisions on each campus with these coordinators who help businesses to assist with their needs and understand what’s available to them. This way, they can identify training needs, and if it’s within the community college system, we’ll put that together.

We have ideas of what the topics are, understand what’s being covered, and where we can make connections. Follow-up surveys help to assess the training and provide opportunities to connect with those learners who’ve completed the trainings. We want businesses to start investing in their frontline employees, understand what’s available to them as part of a structure, and support them. The end goal is ultimately to continue to build and foster those relationships.

Evo: What impact do strong relationships with industry have on learners and the community?

MH: From the stronger bonds we’re creating, people are seeing more of what the community colleges can do. From grant programs to worker training and scholarships that continue learners’ education. We’ve heard stories of the impact it has not only on learner wages but also on their ability to spend more time with family. Through promotions, people have been able to secure jobs that allow them to have better hours and quality of life. We anticipate the economic status of these individuals to get to a more livable wage.

We believe there will be a continued encouragement of continuing education for those who never saw themselves as students. These short-term trainings are a gateway to consider lifelong learning as they’ll need to upskill and reskill with the workforce. It’ll create better retention rates as well, as more people see the value in short-term training which will hopefully turn into loyalty.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about what it takes to create short-term offerings?

MH: When we’re creating short-term training it’s important to have the employer at the table from stage one. We look at real-time labor market information to help assist in providing what’s in the field and employers are seeing in the microcosm of their own environment. Are there any trends that can be relevant for the future? We also look at guided pathways and begin the convergence into academic programming. Both from a prior learning and alternative credit standpoint.

We want to build learner confidence and change their mindset, so they see themselves as college students. Having feet on the ground in workforce development and building relationships with academic affairs from the start is key to building those programs. It must be easily translated. As we start working with Anthology and Lumens to use their tools, we will continue to grow into the future and break down the silos everyone is working in. It’s an exciting time in higher ed.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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