01/21/2013 09:15 am ET Updated Mar 23, 2013

Connecting People to the Right Kind of Learning Opportunities

By Joel Simon, Vice President, Public Sector Services

CAEL works across the U.S. with communities who are trying to align their education and training systems with the needs of employers and overall economic development strategies. While very few would argue that learning less is better than learning more, we are witnessing quite a lot of discussion around how to connect people to the right kind of learning opportunities. Given shrinking resources available for everything, it is critical that we help individuals, institutions and communities make good decisions about how we are investing those scarce resources. We have found that by asking and answering a number of key questions, communities can make better decisions about how to use scarce resources. In embarking on an effort to better align education and training with employers and economic developments, has your community asked questions like these?

• Where is our economy going? What kinds of businesses are likely to succeed here based on our unique character?

Things like available land, access to transportation, power rates, educational attainment rates and current workforce capabilities have different meaning to different kinds of companies. Are we honest about our unique mix of assets, and are we doing anything about our liabilities? Are we preparing workers for companies here, or for export?

• Are our learning institutions -- colleges, universities, training providers, corporate education -- teaching the things that matter to those companies?

Are we offering courses and majors based on what students are asking for or what our employers are asking for? What is the difference? Does our learner community understand what kinds of education and training (and degrees and certificates) that the good jobs require? Are learners making decisions about their learning paths based on history or the future? Do they have accurate information about jobs and what they require?

• Are we measuring and reporting skill attainment in a way that is meaningful?

Is a degree meaningful to the employers or do they prefer a technical certificate? Do area companies prefer general certificates or those that verify capability on particular machinery, software or equipment?

Can our graduates actually do what we say (or imply) that they can do?

• Do our institutions -- colleges, universities, training providers -- serve the range of people who need to increase their skills, not just our historical definition of a "student"?

The contemporary learner may be of any age, employment and family status, level of digital literacy. Don't assume that they can pursue learning on a "typical" school schedule.

More than just advocating for learning (which you should) or adding programs of instruction (which you must), how you arrange your learning assets is key. As your community works to better meet the needs of your changing economy, the answers to these questions will help you make sure that your learning assets are adding maximum value to your community's economic health.

Please share examples of how your education and workforce development system is engaged in economic growth.