In April 2021, the Community College Growth Engine Fund (CCGEF), a national initiative to build 18+ employer-validated micro-pathways, hosted learner feedback sessions. Micro-pathways are defined as two or more stackable credentials that include a 21st century skill and lead to a median wage career in one year or less. In these sessions, the cohort of six community colleges and systems engaged directly with employer partners to gather feedback on their micro-pathway prototypes. During these feedback sessions, employers validated skill and identified industry and workplace needs. Validating these micro-pathways is a core component of the industry responsive micro-pathways we are building through CCGEF.
Key Insights from Employer Partners:
1. Employers look for learners who have gained hands-on or work-based experience applying their skills.
“For us, it’s a matter of being able to check the box…to say, ‘hey, this person has some experience kind of working in the office’, even if it’s an informal capacity, even if it’s an internship, even if it’s volunteering. If they can talk about that and if they have something to put in their resume I think that just gets them to the table a lot faster.”
“Support students in building that portfolio of experiences. So not only do they do it, but then they can tell others about it. So if it’s a digital portfolio, preparing students to thoroughly tell the story of that in a way that employers can understand. And that they can think about the relevance of it.”
Employers seek applicants who have work-based experience whether it’s internships, a job, volunteering, or a personal project they’ve built on their own. Applicants not only need to have this experience but also need to be able to speak about their experiences or demonstrate them in something like a portfolio. Employers referred to technical skills as well as skills such as customer service, confidence, and active learning as being important to gain hands-on experience in.
2. Employers strongly value 21st C skills training for skills like professionalism, communication, and customer service.
“It sounds basic, but where people might fail and end up not being able to maintain their job is situations with attendance or inappropriate behavior in the office place, or some other kind of generally unprofessionalism. So I think that whatever else you can do to really kind of bake into the program to teach that entry level professionalism, so that they walk into the work world ready to go. Getting a job is only half of it, but keeping a job [is different].”
Employer partners stated that though technical skills are essential for obtaining a job, keeping a job requires professionalism and good “communication hygiene.” This involves understanding etiquette such as sending follow up emails and thank you notes. Employer partners appreciated the strong 21st century skills development training and the focus on these types of skills in the pathway.
3. Employer partners view career coaching as crucial to being successful in the workplace.
“Something that we see a lot with the institutions that we work with is thinking about how students can position the work-based learning, the projects, and the activities that they’ve done to have really successful interviews. Helping students recognize through those career coaching and career supports the experiences that they bring to their education work and being able to convey those in their interviews is going to be really important.”
Employer partners pointed to career coaching as being highly valuable to learners while job searching. In depth coaching on how to position prior experience and speak about skills is not always available to learners, but employers emphasized the need for it.
Next Steps for the CCGEF Cohort
Over the coming weeks, the CCGEF cohort institutions will continue to receive feedback for each of their selected micro-pathway occupations. Using the feedback identified during these sessions, design teams will adjust pathways and add learner supports. Learner co-designers will continue to be actively involved in the design process to ensure that their needs are being met.