Higher Education: The Real Workforce Agency in States

Dec 20, 2011 by

At the recent Boosting College Completion for a New Economy Legislative Workshop, Eric Fingerhut, former Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents challenged legislators to begin viewing their postsecondary education institutions as THE workforce development agency in their state. While this may seem obvious to most, the assumption – as Mr. Fingerhut pointed out – is that state and regional workforce investment boards often seen as the primary workforce entity in states.  While these entities do play a critical role – their resources and charge are actually quite limited given the scope of the challenge in many states.

Postsecondary institutions, on the other hand, are the primary trainer of workers in states and the quality of the postsecondary system is critical to educating the populace and drawing investment into the state.  Given the central role that postsecondary education plays both in terms of economic and workforce development, Fingerhut provided the following guidance to state legislators:

1. See your postsecondary system as a statewide enterprise.

It is often mentioned that postsecondary institutions meet critical regional needs both in terms of being a primary employer and a trainer of local workers. As a result, investing in the regional nature of institutions makes sense.  However, in the 21st century the competition for jobs is no longer regional – it is international.  Consequently, state postsecondary institutions should be focused on how they help their state compete in the global economy. One clear example is the use of centers of excellence.  Institutions may have a unique specialty that meets an overall state goal. As a center of excellence, a regional institution can be expected to work with other institutions and communities to meet a compelling statewide need.  No longer should states view their institutions as “regional” but instead as part of a larger whole.

2. Measure what you are trying to achieve

It is no longer feasible for states, with limited resources, to trust that their postsecondary institutions are meeting the goals of the state. Conseqently, states must identify what they want to achieve and measure impact. In particular, if states are interested in workforce outcomes, then they should develop metrics and measure the extent that their postsecondary institutions are making progress toward those goals and metrics.

3. Postsecondary should focus on the application of known knowledge

While the strength of our research universities is the creation of new knowledge, it is generally not the case that this knowledge will translate into short term economic gain for a state. Instead, universities should consider how to communicate known knowledge and research and apply it to existing business problems. Incorporating postsecondary education into the “ecosystem of economic innovation” is the most effective way to leverage your postsecondary institutions toward existing workforce needs. This necessitates stronger relationships with industry and clearly communicated knowledge that can be easily translated by business.  Once again Fingerhut spoke about the role that centers of excellence at postsecondary institutions can play toward redefining the role of postsecondary institutions.  Rewarding institutions that have a unique level of knowledge and expertise in a high need area can be a valuable tool for meeting workforce and economic development goals.

4. Equate research with entrepreuneurship

Research should continue to be a critical part of the higher education enterprise, but should demonstrate greater value to the state. Institutions should think beyond traditional research and toward the use of new research as a driver for entrepreneurial activity.  How can institutions both develop talent who can do cutting edge research and leverage that research to create the next big business opportunity. Teaching entrepreneurial skills at our institutions can go a long way to more effectively leveraging the new knowledge generated by institutions.

5. It’s the egg.

Fingerhut made it clear that the chicken or the egg debate over attracting new industry or educating its workforce to meet is workforce needs comes first in terms of meeting workforce needs has been settled.  It’s the egg – developing an educated workforce. Without an educated populace you will not develop an entrepreneurial/creative class who can create new industry and ultimately attract outside investment. With a college credential serving as the primary means to earning a higher wages and staving off unemployment, states should continue to invest in strategies to increase college completion.

Look for more insights from our legislative workshop in the coming weeks.

Print Friendly

Related Posts


Share This

Bad Behavior has blocked 908 access attempts in the last 7 days.

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: