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Technical Colleges at the Heart of Community Development: A Strategic Approach

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Daa’iyah Salaam
February 26, 2024

I will say to any administrator, you’re not serious about workforce development if you’re not working with your local or regional technical college. In today’s rapidly evolving, at times unstable, economic landscape, the resiliency of a community is reflected in the strength of its workforce. On the surface, it’s apparent that filling job vacancies requires people, but the deeper challenge often lies in how to effectively develop and successfully equip people to meet the specific needs of the workforce. Building and maintaining a sustainable community depends deeply on human capital, yet this incredible asset often remains underutilized and underdeveloped. Because of this, communities struggle with the challenges of workforce development. Technical colleges can and should be a primary catalyst used to address this gap. When strategically leveraged, technical colleges have the potential to play a transformative role in the socio-economic development of the community.

Technical colleges are potentially the fastest avenue to drive a community from poverty to prosperity due to their unique ability to bridge the gap between the available workforce and the evolving needs of the local labor market. They are more than educational institutions; they are the cornerstone of community sustainability and economic mobility. Unlike traditional job training programs that may not be in sync with market demands, these institutions are mandated by law to create plans every two years that reflect industry trends and skill gaps. This is done through the analysis of market research and industry stakeholder engagement. This means they always have relevant and up to date industry trend data. Technical colleges equip students with industry-standard skills, making them workforce-ready upon graduation. By producing skilled workers who are in tune with local industry needs, these colleges can significantly contribute to economic growth, civic engagement and overall community health. Still, despite their potential, technical colleges often struggle with antiquated recruitment strategies and a lack of strategic collaboration with local governments. This misalignment contributes to the underutilization of these institutions as critical resources for community and economic growth.

The key to unlocking the potential of technical colleges lies in developing strategic partnerships with other local assets within the community. Local governments can play a key role in enabling individuals to pursue their education more efficiently and effectively by facilitating collaborations with organizations that offer childcare, housing and other forms of assistance (identified barriers to completion). This collaborative approach not only aids students in their educational journey but also strengthens the community’s workforce readiness. Additionally, the local government can harness Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs to further support these students. Prioritizing grants for organizations that assist full-time students can create an environment conducive to educational success, and transform the economic landscape of communities.

Why Is This So Critical?

Imagine, a single mother of two small children who is currently in school. Each day, she juggles the demands of parenthood, work and her studies. Her goal is clear: to complete a program in a health- related field that promises a brighter future for her family. The program, designed to be finished in 24 months, is her pathway to a stable, well-paying job. Yet, the reality of her situation stretches this timeline. Childcare for evening classes, the burden of rent and her work schedule, while also managing her children’s needs and her coursework, turn two years into four or more. Her journey through education becomes a prolonged endeavor, not for lack of ambition or effort, but due to the sheer weight of her responsibilities. This woman’s story is not unique but a common narrative in our communities. It’s a reality of countless individuals striving for a better life against daunting odds. It is a reminder of the critical role that support systems, provided by local governments and community organizations, play in turning aspirations into attainable goals.

The strategies mentioned in this article highlight the pivotal role of local governments in partnership with technical colleges. By working with technical colleges, utilizing data for targeted recruitment, collaborating with various stakeholders and providing focused assistance, municipalities can effectively address the unique challenges of their communities and most importantly fill workforce gaps and attract additional industry. This approach is not just about education; it’s about laying the groundwork for a more prosperous and equitable society. By harnessing technical colleges’ potential in concert with municipal efforts, we can create a more inclusive, efficient pathway from education to employment, especially for those who have traditionally been marginalized in the workforce.

As public administrators, we are trained to address and respond to the multifaceted challenges that arise within our communities. As society evolves, so does the complexity of its challenges, and it becomes increasingly crucial for public administrators to step beyond traditional roles and contribute proactively to solutions that cater to these changing dynamics. The collaboration with technical colleges and the strategic and tactical approach to workforce development represent a deeper commitment to the wellbeing and prosperity of our communities. In doing so, we not only uphold our duty as public administrators but also demonstrate a dedication to fostering resilient, thriving communities that can adapt and flourish in the face of modern challenges.

Author: Daa’iyah Salaam, a second-year Public Administration Doctoral student at Valdosta State University, specializes in leveraging data-driven strategies for community and economic development. With a Master’s in Public Administration from Albany State University, where she also serves as the Chair of the Masters of Public Administration Advisory Board, Daa’iyah combines her academic insights with practical experience as a Director of Institutional Research at Columbus Technical College to enhance organizational effectiveness in educational settings. Daa’iyah is also a Black Belt Six Sigma Practitioner.

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