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Connecting Learning and Work: How Leaders Are Doing It - Part II

In my earlier blog, based on the concluding plenary panel at SCUP 2022, established that there have been extensive, substantial gaps and inconsistencies between the needs of the workforce and learning available from colleges, universities, and other learning providers: Learning and Work: Redefining Workforce Development for Impact.

However, some successful, future-serving models have emerged to bridge these gaps:

  • Learning providers have worked with employers to establish training and career pathways that have focused on connecting work and learning. In recent years these have become more complex, automated, and useful.

  • Often out of frustration with traditional learning providers, employers have established or expanded their own training facilities to bring adequate skills sets to employees. Such training has aligned with national standards for the trades. Industries have also partnered with schools to provide focused training for new employees or to upskill and train existing employees.

  • In many settings, industries have partnered with communities to bring middle school and high school students into the field by providing apprenticeships that serve to recruit students early. Articulated curriculum serves to provide training pathways from high school to community college and from colleges to universities.

  • Colleges and universities have benefited from working with advisory boards that provide insights into training and skills needed today, and in the future, to maintain a competitive position for the industry or business. The advisory boards often contribute scholarships, tuition, equipment, and apprenticeships. Continuing and adult education units, credit and noncredit, have made especially productive use of such advisory arrangements.

  • Regional or national initiatives have been undertaken to address shortcomings in particular industries. We provide examples in the water and transportation industries.

Examples of Gap-Bridging Programs and Initiatives

Here are some examples of college and university efforts to bridge the gap between learning and work. Also provided are some examples of industry-focused programs.

The Open Skills Network (OSN)is a coalition of employers, education providers, military, and other stakeholders dedicated to advancing skills-based education and hiring. The OSN envisions a world where individuals are trained for in-demand skills, hired for what they can do, and perpetually upskilled while on the job. Their vision is to create the foundation to advance to a more equitable labor market (The OSN | Open Skills Network). The Western Governors University has established competency-based curriculum that crosswalks to work force skills using the Open Skills Network. A Closer Look at the Open Skills Network (

Creating a decentralized national network of open, accessible, machine-actionable skills libraries. The Open Skills Network recently received $850,000 from the Walmart Foundation to support this effort..

“The skills needed for jobs today are rapidly changing. To prepare the workforce of the future, we must improve the entire ecosystem, from skills-based education to hiring and promotions," said Gayatri Agnew, senior director of opportunity at Walmart. “By focusing on skills, OSN is creating clear career pathways that support a more equitable and better-prepared workforce.”

Establishing fast track career programs. Austin Community College has established a Fast Track Careers program with accelerated degrees in high-need areas for city and region. These include credit and non-credit programs. Tuition assistance is part of the program. Current focus areas include non-credit skills certificates in Business, Design, Manufacturing, Construction & Applied Technologies and Science, Engineering & Technology. Fast Track Careers | Austin Community College District (

Building the water workforce of the future. Some industries are developing pipelines from high school to college to universities. Here is an example of a program to build the water workforce of the future. Building a “pipeline” of people that are eager to join the water workforce is a critically important goal for creating the water workforce of the future. Academic institutions are key partners in achieving this goal.

Two institutions are playing an important role. East Central University will discuss a new K-12 STEM-based program called Educational Program on Awareness, Sustainability, and Service for Water/Wastewater (EdPASS H2O) to educate and prepare students for apprenticeships and jobs in utilities. Grand Rapids Community College will describe a community-based program to educate and prepare students from disadvantaged communities for utility jobs in western Michigan. This webinar is part of an ongoing webinar series hosted by EPA, in partnership with leading water sector organizations around the country. More information on this webinar series can be found at

Building transportation workers for today and tomorrow. The aviation industry is suffering from extreme shortages of pilots, aircraft mechanics and maintenance workers nationwide. Phil Washington, director of The Denver International Airport, is leading the development of the Center of Excellence and Equity in Aviation. The center will train students for careers in aviation free of charge, targeting youth from low-income communities and communities of color, as well as airport employees who work in nonaviation industries like retail, food service and sanitation. Once completed, it will be the first and only aviation center of excellence with an emphasis on equity, creating more opportunities for minorities, women and veteran-owned business.

The Center of Equity and Excellence in Aviation (CEEA), a first of its kind in the aviation industry, will help underserved communities and prepare current and future employees for a career in aviation. The center will help Denver become THE place that businesses across the United States come to find aviation talent as well as create more opportunities for minority-, women- and veteran-owned businesses to do business at DEN. CEEA will focus on three key areas:

  • Business Development Training Academy

  • Career Pathways

  • Research and Innovation Lab

The center will also host training for every staff level. This will include a 40-person, 12-month leadership academy to prepare employees for managerial and executive positions; a multiagency exchange program that will exchange 10 employees with other airports on a quarterly basis; and forums and competency opportunities offered for existing members of the airport’s senior leadership. Center of Equity and Excellence in Aviation | Denver International Airport (

Key Questions to Consider

Some key questions that colleges and universities can ask business and industry representatives:

1. What are the current challenges that your profession and company/firm are facing.

2. What are relevant skill set needed for success in the profession going forward?

3. How well are recent graduates currently addressing these relevant skills for success?

4. What career preparation, or strategic change would you suggest to address the future need of the profession?

5. What is most critical for us to address as a department and college?

6. What do you need to upskill your current employees?

7. How can we develop better partnerships?

These focused approaches to improving learning to work connections can improve the relevancy, future-orientation, and access to much needed skill training and career ladders.


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