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Four Insights from Employers: How Learning Providers Can Design Industry-aligned Pathways

A completed T-Profile by an employer partner


In January 2021, the Community College Growth Engine Fund (CCGEF), a national initiative to build 18 employer-validated micro-pathways that connect low-wage and entry-level workers to in-demand jobs, hosted design sessions in which the cohort of six community colleges engaged directly with local and national employer partners from four industries; Allied Health, Construction, Information Technology, and Manufacturing. During these design sessions, employers helped to identify and prioritize skills to support the cohort’s design of pathways using the Lab’s T-Profile tool. The T-profile is a skills profile that allows employers to be honest and precise about the ideal combination of skills they are seeking for specific job roles (in a way that is not articulated in a job description) and institutions to understand exactly what they are looking for and can do to prepare learners. This approach to working with employers is crucial to designing the industry responsive pathways we seek to build through CCGEF. 


4 Key Insights from Employers:

1. 21st Century Skills are Most Critical that Learning Providers Develop—For Employers, They are the Hardest to Train for

“If you came to me with the 21st century skills, I would invest in training you on the technical side. But I don’t really have a way of training for these 21st century skills…”

Employers emphasize the need for strong 21st century skills development training as foundational, but noted how difficult 21st century skills are to train for. After completing the T-Profile exercise, employer partners indicated the importance of 21st century skills training. This theme rings true across employers in various industries, including health, IT, and manufacturing, and employer partners the Lab has collaborated with over the past seven years. 

2. Use Skills Profiles, like the T-Profile, to Align Skill Needs with Employers

“As an employer, these types of tools help us articulate our needs to local training providers. It’s very easy to use…and then translating it up to, hey, we need these things, can you help us train our people or upskill, train our future staff or upskill, our current staff?”

Skills profiles, particularly the T-Profile, are a useful tool for employers and institutions to align and hone in on skills as they work together to build micro-pathways—we know that establishing a shared language is trickiest when employers and institutions collaborate. Employers noted that using the Lab’s T-Profile tool allowed them to best articulate training needs and do some of the translating work for them.

3. Responsiveness is Key—Revisit Skills Profiles with Employers Often

“Being flexible, being agile as a learning organization, to be able to take what the industry is telling you and quickly put it into a credential package [is important].”

Employers need institutions and training partners to be flexible and agile to keep up with and appropriately respond to their changing needs. By using skills profile tools and engaging employers actively in the design of credentials, institutions can respond to employer needs to best prepare their learners for the workforce. 

4. Check for Internal Employer Alignment by Bringing More than One Employee to the Table

“We saw the one example: The same job and people are viewing a difference [in the skills identified], there’s a lot of subjectivity in this. So trying to tie that subjectivity down so it’s more consistent, probably helps the organization as well.”

Skills profiles can also help companies align internally. A theme that the Lab has been hearing since the launch of CCGEF is lack of alignment within organizations. Employers have noted that there is often a disconnect between the HR department and hiring managers within the same company. The two T-profiles below demonstrate this disconnect. Two employers at the same company, using the same job description completed the T-profile tool differently. In order to design pathways that meet the needs of employers, these needs must be aligned within employer organizations.

Two T-Profiles completed by two employees at the same company


Next Steps for the CCGEF Cohort

Over the coming weeks, the CCGEF cohort institutions will continue to complete skills profiles with employer partners for each of their selected micro-pathway occupations. Using the skills identified during these profile sessions, design teams will build a curriculum and pathways. Employer co-designers will continue to be actively involved in the design process to ensure that curriculum prepares learners for current workforce needs. 


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