09/12/2012 05:48 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Partnerships Are Key to Work-Ready Communities

As Election Day rapidly approaches, the topic of job creation is much discussed by candidates on both sides of the aisle, in races across the country. We passionately believe that there must be an equal spotlight placed on skills creation. The reality is that a growing gap between the needs of employers and the skills of America's workforce leaves far too many quality jobs unfilled in critical areas of our economy.

This is especially concerning for the millions of students who are attending colleges this fall -- and facing the reality that the skills needed by America's businesses do not always align with those taught at today's institutions of higher education. Because we are at the front lines of education and business, respectively, we have teamed up to make a change; we know the very future of our workforce depends on it.

As we see it, public-private partnerships between local community colleges and employers are the new currency for both sides of the equation. They ensure that community colleges do not train students in a vacuum and that businesses obtain the skilled workforce they need. These partnerships are a critical step to help make students more employable and work ready on day one.

Here in Montgomery County, Maryland, the partnership between Montgomery College and Discovery Communications uniquely demonstrates how a community college and an employer can collaborate on efforts to best serve students and the local economy. Our work together, which began last spring and is expanding during the 2012-2013 school year, gives students access to practical skills, training and advice to prepare them for jobs and long-term success.

For Candice Allgood, the Montgomery College and Discovery partnership is personal. While preparing to graduate from a local high school, she earned admission and a partial scholarship to a four-year university. But the costs still remained too high. So, Candice turned to community college. Given no one in her family had completed college except for an uncle, Candice admits she "went into college a little bit blind." And a little lost.

But along the way, she discovered journalism and, ultimately, Montgomery College's Communications and Broadcast Technologies Department. Days away from receiving her associate's degree in 2011, Candice's professors suggested she apply for a paid internship with Discovery through the new partnership program. Though it would mean quitting the full-time job that paid for her education, she jumped at the opportunity. Candice thought, "This is a new door opening, and I am going to see where it takes me."

Although journalism jobs are currently scarce and competitive, that single step has led to a full-time position at Discovery for Candice. The College provided her with valuable journalism skills, but she says her time at Discovery exposed her to an additional set of tools, including networking and post-production training. Candice credits the partnership for arming her with the full array of skills -- and the access -- to succeed in today's workforce.

Far from just internships, our partnership model has a three-part approach:

1. Preparing Montgomery College students for jobs specifically at Discovery.
This summer, Discovery hired Candice and several other Montgomery College students for paid summer internships. These placements leveraged the information technology, media, and other educational experiences the students had already received and gave them opportunities for on-the-job training in a variety of placements. They learned in a way that never would be possible in a classroom. This program marked the first time Discovery hired interns who did not attend a four-year institution, but it certainly will not be the last.

2. Building students' awareness about how to break into careers in the media industry.
The second part of our partnership consists of career panels that bring high-level Discovery executives to campus to discuss careers that exist in the media and communications fields. Discovery employees lend their talent and expertise at panels on topics such as digital and social media, marketing, public relations, and finance in the media industry. Bringing company leaders to the classroom enlightens students to what steps they can take to be part of this industry. Last semester's panels saw every seat in the classroom filled and more students tuned in online -- with a noticeable level of active engagement.

3. Training students with the "soft skills" needed to succeed generally in the workforce.
The final piece of our partnership, starting this fall, is what we call "HR On Loan." This program focuses on equipping and educating students with "soft skills," the tangible techniques needed to find and keep great jobs, such as effective job searching, networking, and interviewing skills.

Our three-part model focuses on building a flourishing community by training and tapping talent in our own backyard. That is why our partnership is one that Skills for America's Future -- a policy initiative of the Aspen Institute's Economic Opportunities Program created to foster business-community college partnerships -- is sharing across the nation. Skills for America's Future is a growing national network of more than 300 partnerships among community colleges, businesses, industry associations, and other workforce development partners that serve the needs of employers, students, and the community.

Our organizations are continuing to look for ways to innovate and reach critical, yet underserved, communities. We currently are working together to craft a veteran-specific program, focused on translating current students' military experience into work opportunities.

We are proud to serve as a model for the power of business-community college partnerships, and hope other educational institutions and businesses find their own way to explore the possibilities. Our partnership shows what a company with global reach can accomplish by being proactive with its desire to build up the community where our employees live and work. It also proves what a community college can accomplish when dedicated to providing innovative and practical training for its students.

In order for both industry and educational institutions to truly flourish in our changing economy, partnerships like ours and others in the Skills for America's Future network must continue to equip community college students for success across the board -- in specific businesses and industries and in the workforce more generally. In our efforts to promote job growth, let's make sure we also focus on educating and preparing a world-class workforce equipped with the skills required to fill those jobs.

There is too much at stake for our country for us to remain isolated. Keeping the American Dream alive for the next generation will require private-public partnerships with employers and community colleges that embrace a can-do, entrepreneurial spirit and change the trajectory for our businesses, communities, and students.

Dr. DeRionne P. Pollard is the president of Montgomery College, Maryland's largest community college and largest undergraduate institution of higher education. David M. Zaslav is the president and CEO of Discovery Communications and a Skills for America's Future Advisory board member.

Discovery Communications is a pledge company of A Billion + Change, a national campaign to mobilize billions in pro bono and skills-based volunteer services from corporate America by 2013. To date, more than 200 companies around the country have committed an estimated $1.8 billion of time and talent to help build nonprofit capacity to meet community needs at home and around the world."