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Opinion: Employer partnerships can bridge talent gap

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I had a recent opportunity to represent Springfield at the Lumina Foundation’s 2019 Driving for Change convening in Detroit. Missouri had 10 delegates, including Missouri Department of Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan.

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. They envision a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Springfield has a goal to reach 60% postsecondary attainment by 2025.

Across the nation, employers struggle with vacancies for midlevel positions. However, many employers are finding success by partnering with higher education and focusing on individuals who have some college or no college and are employed. For Springfield, 26% of our population is in this category – a little over 41,500 people. At the convening, Albuquerque, New Mexico, presented on their newly developed dashboard with the results of a survey conducted with its employers that is quite like the Missouri Job Center’s annual Momentum Report. In the survey results, 85% of the employers either would or possibly might consider partnering with higher education. The city’s dashboard can be found at BridgingTheTalentGap.org/albuquerque.

Albuquerque’s survey to employers asked what educational friendly workplace efforts employees seek to pursue their education. The top four responses were: flexible work schedules to fit learning schedules, 63%; allowing employees to work from home and financial aid for books and course materials/fees, both 51%; and employers who created work schedules that fit class schedules, 49%.

At the convening, Detroit recognized that every 1% increase in postsecondary attainment adds $12,000 in capital gain. Detroit has a goal to reach 60% attainment by 2030, which will produce $42 billion as a return on investment in one year by reaching this goal.

Of course, I am aware in Springfield we do not have car manufacturing plants like Detroit. However, we can use some of their general practices. For example, we know that with the high demand on talent, individuals change jobs more frequently than historically. Detroit saw this happening with its training facilities. City leaders partnered with higher education to use the employer’s core training and have higher education develop curriculum to have the training accredited, which enabled employees to earn college credit hours for training that was provided through higher education. Employers now had consistent training programs through contracts with higher education.

Detroit’s new process provided for employees to earn certificates while on the job that is leading to stackable credentials. An employee may earn a certificate, followed by certification and then a two- or four-year degree by staying with an employer that invested in the employee, which in turn, was an investment for the employer. I believe that most employees do not know all the benefits employers offer. I believe that surveying employees with the following two questions also can give an employer ideas about what they can offer employees: “What education is offered by your employer? “and “What education-friendly workplace efforts do employees seek to pursue their education?”

I also believe using higher education to partner for training that can be accredited will help meet the demand for the jobs that still require degrees.

Francine Pratt is director of Prosper Springfield, a poverty reduction initiative led by Community Partnership of the Ozarks and United Way of the Ozarks. She can be reached at fpratt@cpozarks.org.

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