Lessons Learned from Career Pathways for a Green South
Whether the challenge is higher educational attainment or lower unemployment rates, officials at every level of government are looking to community colleges to respond to some of our most intractable problems. While community colleges have historically played an important role in helping individuals attain upward mobility through training and increased skills, the financial collapse of 2008 necessitated a different kind of response. Community colleges were a big part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed by Congress in February 2009.
MDC received a U.S. Department of Labor Education and Training Administration “Pathways Out of Poverty” grant, authorized under ARRA, to support programs that help disadvantaged individuals attain economic self-sufficiency through good jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. This grant program addressed both ARRA goals: creating new jobs and jumpstarting new industries. MDC’s Career Pathways for a Green South included four communities in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina that have suffered manufacturing job loss in recent years. The ARRA grant enabled us to respond to the peculiar challenges of the Great Recession: positioning participating community colleges to respond to a different kind of economy, and helping them stretch to meet new expectations. Different than a highway construction project (another job creation strategy of ARRA), this grant program was about breaking down barriers for the chronically unemployed.
Four community colleges that took on this challenge with us:
- Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C.
- Mountain Empire Community College serving three rural counties in western Virginia
- Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College serving three rural counties in South Carolina
- Trident Technical College serving Charleston and North Charleston, S.C.
Each college formed partnerships with nonprofit organizations, the public workforce system, labor organizations, and employers to move low-income individuals and displaced workers into higher-paying green industry jobs. Partnerships used multiple strategies to recruit participants for programs leading to industry-recognized credentials. The credentials and courses were chosen in collaboration with local businesses, according to their training needs. Colleges offered a range of programs, including weatherization and construction, as well as entry-level competencies in the nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar energy sectors.
Now, as grant activity draws to a close, we’re reflecting on our original hypothesis about community colleges, green jobs, student supports, and institutional change.
Our hypothesis: community colleges are the ideal hub for workforce development efforts that incorporate education, training, and student supports. (All right, all right, we know the likelihood of proving this hypothesis was pretty good, but stick with us.)
While community colleges are experts at job training, we knew the career and technical training departments were less accustomed to managing job placement and student support systems. Our aim, then, was to help colleges build and sustain partnerships that would clear the employment path for trainees. Over the next several months, MDC will release a series of papers that illustrate how the Career Pathways for a Green South colleges used ARRA funds to adapt recruitment, training, support, and placement practices to meet the needs of students and their local labor markets. Here’s what you have to look forward to:
- Rising to the Challenge: three crucial capacities that colleges must develop to engage high-poverty populations, suggesting an expanded boundary for community colleges and providing insight into effective practices
- Local Adaptation in the Face of Economic Change: case examples from Career Pathways for a Green South colleges illustrating how these institutions modified their training offerings to meet local labor demand
- Data Leads the Way: an exploration of how data can drive adaptation in everything from recruitment practices, support service offerings, and job placement efforts; this piece will include analysis of Career Pathways for a Green South college data extracted from the U.S. Department of Labor Recovery Act Database
- Scaling Impact: an introduction to MDC’s framework for scaling-up effective programs, with examples of how Career Pathways for a Green South colleges are sustaining promising practices from their Pathways Out of Poverty work
Career Pathways for a Green South represents a significant step toward moving low-income and displaced workers into a career path; the individuals who completed the training programs and found new jobs will increase their incomes and contribute to the revitalization of their communities. It also is a significant step for the four colleges; they have developed new policies, practices, and institutional will to reach out to individuals in their community who are most in need and connect them to training that is responsive to local employer needs.