Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend one of Dr. Jill Biden’s Community College to Career stops at the South Seattle Community College Hangar. Throughout the year, Dr. Biden has been traveling to community colleges and businesses around the country to see firsthand how community colleges are designing programs to give people the skills they need to compete in the global economy.
Before Dr. Biden arrived, I spoke with several aviation students and one of their instructors who told me he had graduated from the same program more than 30 years ago. The instructor said he was confident his students would also build long and rewarding careers in aviation. The students told me that they were looking forward to jobs at Boeing, Lockheed, and at commercial airlines throughout the country.
As a community college teacher herself, Dr. Biden knows that community colleges, in partnership with business and the public workforce system, are producing skilled workers, ready to fill jobs now and in the future. The U.S. Department of Labor has invested funding in colleges, through direct grants and funding from Workforce Investment Boards, that are clearly meeting the needs of businesses. And based on what we heard from students, these grants, and the work of the colleges, are turning lives around.
Dr. Biden noted that partnerships like those at South Seattle Community College are responding directly to the needs of employers. She said that she has seen mothers juggling jobs and childcare with classes, veterans going back to complete their education, and workers being retrained to get the right skills for the local economy.
"It's about preparing people for jobs – it's about jobs for the future," Dr. Biden said.
We heard from Jason DeBuys, a veteran, aviation student, father and worker at Boeing. He told us that the Navy gave him drive and determination, and the college gave him the support that he needed. "To be honest," he said, "I can't do it on my own. The teachers go above and beyond, and want to help."
Tim Copes from Boeing said that "Jason is a great example of what the partnership between Boeing and the community colleges can achieve."
He gave examples of where Boeing, the colleges, and labor unions have established programs that integrate in-house training with union and college certificates. The Seattle Maritime Academy was lauded for its ability to give students internships and experiences to learn both the technical skills and how to work in teams to solve problems. And we heard about a training program located on site, because the business runs seven days a week; employees don't have the time to take classes after work, so the classes come to them. These businesses are not only skilling up their workers, but are improving employee productivity, customer satisfaction, and efficiency, which in the end, will allow those businesses to grow and create more jobs.
As a new Regional Administrator for the Employment and Training Administration at the US Department of Labor, I was excited to hear these inspiring stories. I could see that these programs demonstrate the very best elements of successful workforce development programs: contextual learning, internships, mentoring, co-investment from business and government, programs that award certificates and credentials along a career pathway, and the integral role of employers in developing and teaching relevant curriculum.