Community College Event Showcases the Power of Business, Education Collaboration

By ReadyNation

Pennsylvania report spotlights the importance of community college to building a strong workforce.

A recent ReadyNation event in Pennsylvania highlighted the unique role of community colleges in keeping state and national economies strong, while also demonstrating the power of partnerships between the business and educational communities.

The event took place at Luzerne County Community College and included the release of the ReadyNation report, “Community Colleges Are the Sturdiest Bridge to a Successful Workforce.” Attendees of the event included Congressman Lou Barletta, President of Luzerne County Community College Thomas P. Leary, President and CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce Wico Van Genderen, Advanced Metals Machining Human Resources Manager George Rando, and state Senator John Yudichak.

These leaders from government, education, and business united behind a single message: Community colleges will be an important part of closing the “skills gap” in the United States. A skills gap occurs when there are more open positions than there are qualified applicants to fill those positions. ReadyNation’s report notes that the United States faces an estimated shortfall of five million workers by 2020, including 170,000 jobs in Pennsylvania alone. This is a major problem that could imperil businesses across the country.

“Our community colleges are a key gateway to maintaining a healthy feeder system to ensure our nation’s economy remains competitive,” said Wico van Genderen, CEO of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce.

Community colleges provide one solution—and, as Rando noted, they likewise provide “a path to the middle class” for many students. Van Genderen also lauded community colleges, calling them “a key gateway to maintaining a healthy feeder system to ensure our nation’s economy remains competitive.”

Congressman Barletta added that learning trade skills like the ones community colleges offer “is a pathway forward for our country right now.” He cited the skills gap and explained that “I hear ‘We have work, but we don’t have people to fill the jobs we have.’” Pennsylvania Senator Yudichak agreed with the message of the report, saying “to [many community college students], there’s no better bridge to a better life.”

The speakers echoed the report’s call for reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to modernize career education programs and better suit the needs of a 21st-century economy. The speakers also cited specific reforms that would help current and prospective students, such as year-round access to Pell Grants, and being able to use those grants for non-traditional programs.

The media coverage in the wake of the event demonstrated the compelling nature of business and educational partnerships. Local broadcast coverage included five stories on NBC, CBS, and Fox. Another five pieces published in print or online news outlets, including stories in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Hazleton Standard Speaker, and the Wilkes-Barre Citizens Voice.

The effectiveness of the collaboration of business and educational leaders and the success of the ReadyNation report release are testaments to the power that such partnerships can wield—and to the good that they can achieve.

By Nancy Fishman, Deputy Director, ReadyNation. This article was originally posted on The Council for a Strong America's blog. Read the report here.

The Learning First Alliance has convened events between the business and education communities to discuss college and career readiness. Learn more.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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