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JFF CTE Fellowship Transforms How Employers Find Talent

October 18, 2022

Claudia Bonilla
Jennifer Freeman Senior Director

Now in its second year, the Talent of Tomorrow Fellowship from Jobs for the Future (JFF) is helping employers connect with a rich but often overlooked source of tech talent: postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) programs.

Launched with the support of the ECMC Foundation, the ToT Fellowship is an innovative yearlong professional development experience in which emerging business leaders learn how their companies can partner with community college CTE programs to build diverse workforces made up of people who have the in-demand skills and fresh ideas companies need to stay competitive in today’s ever-evolving economy.

Despite the economic turmoil caused by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and the stark realities of inflation, rising interest rates, and an increased likelihood of a recession, demand for talent is strong and labor shortages have left employers in several sectors struggling to find skilled workers.

But those who have been involved in the ToT Fellowship—employers, instructors, and the fellows themselves—say employers can overcome recruiting challenges if they forgo hiring policies that emphasize four-year degrees and take a look at students in CTE programs.

Source: Infographic created by JFF. Statistics from American Association of Community Colleges

“Career technical education, in its name, already implies the end point, the career point,” says ToT Instructor Sal Veas, chair of the business department at Santa Monica College in California. “From a student’s perspective, [CTE is] a valid and viable choice, because it does lead to employment.”

Jennifer Lucia, who was a member of the first cohort of ToT fellows, agrees.

“Educational pathways look very different, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that one way is the right way,” says Lucia, an education and skills strategist at IBM. “What are different pathways that can be created to provide accessible opportunities for people that don’t necessarily have the privilege to earn a four-year degree? That’s why I joined the Talent of Tomorrow Fellowship—because it aims to help employers bridge that gap.”

Diversifying the Workforce

The fellowship benefits employers that are committed to building and retaining diverse workforces because they recognize that teams made up of people who bring a range of skills, viewpoints, and experiences to their work can be a competitive advantage.

“What we are talking about right now is changing at the human knowledge level, the diversity of thought, of people who come from all walks of life,” says Ly-Huong T Pham, a ToT instructor and an instructor in California’s San Jose-Evergreen Community College District. “The world has changed, and the more we can make use of what I call, ‘the human cloud of knowledge,’ the better it is for companies.”

Source: Infographic created by JFF. Statistics from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Community college CTE programs boast a student body that more closely reflects this country’s demographics than those of traditional four-year colleges and universities. Today’s postsecondary learners comprise a multifaceted demographic: They aren’t just young people entering college directly from high school; they’re working adults, parents, and veterans—many of them from low-income backgrounds. Community colleges serve all of these people, enrolling more than one-third of all U.S college students.

Source: Infographic created by JFF. Statistics from Advance CTE

Delivering Real Results

The Talent of Tomorrow fellowship benefits everyone it touches: the fellows, the employers, and the students in CTE programs. Here’s how.

Real world experience. As part of their coursework, ToT fellows evaluate CTE programs near their companies’ offices and come up with strategies for recruiting talent from those programs. That’s valuable experience that can pay off on the job in many ways.

“I appreciated the tangible examples of companies taking a proof of concept and moving it to scale,” says ToT Fellow Natalie Van Kleef, global head of future workforce for Google Cloud. “I learned a lot and found myself taking notes on the content and ideas. How this can translate to the work I want to accomplish was definitely at the top of my mind.”

Lifelong connections. Participants work collaboratively with instructors, coaches, and the other fellows. That helps them expand their networks and build professional social capital that will benefit them throughout their careers.

“The fellowship experience marked the first time I was able to really collaborate with my peers in the industry toward a shared goal, and now I’ve met lifelong mentors and friends,” says Lucia.

“Having access to the networks of people who are living this mission and doing this work was very inspiring, and it really elevated everyone’s knowledge,” says Van Kleef.

Local partners, local solutions: Community colleges are attractive partners for employers because they know their communities. They’ve forged longstanding relationships with workforce development organizations and industry and professional associations, and they can harness the power of those connections as they work with employers to design programs in which students acquire the skills that are at a premium in the regional economy.

Lucia says the fellowship gave her a more complete picture of the valuable role community colleges play in developing talent.

“My favorite part of the fellowship was the learning modules and getting access to the community college coaches and mentors. It has completely changed my understanding of how complex the postsecondary base can be. I’ve always been a huge advocate of community colleges, but after the fellowship I developed an even greater respect for [community colleges],” she says. ‘It honestly just energized me.”

New hiring strategies, new career opportunities: By fostering connections between CTE programs and businesses, ToT leads employers to expand their recruiting efforts to include both two- and four-year degree institutions, and that creates new career pathways for CTE students, who might have been bypassed by traditional corporate recruiting programs.

“We are building new—and more inclusive—talent pipelines to meet our needs,” Todd Cohen, senior manager of strategic workforce initiatives at Lockheed Martin, wrote in a Talent Management column about the value of investing in an inclusive workforce.

“My favorite part of the fellowship was the learning modules and getting access to the community college coaches and mentors. It has completely changed my understanding of how complex the postsecondary base can be.

— Jennifer Lucia, ToT Fellow and an Educational & Skills Strategist at IBM

A Workforce Solution for the Future

Given the success of the program so far, we’re actively brainstorming to come up with ways for the Talent of Tomorrow fellowship to grow and evolve to best prepare employers, workers, and learners for the future of work.

One thing we know for sure is that we want to work with employers of all sizes and types from across the country. Our first group of fellows included employees of national companies like Lockheed Martin, IBM, McDonald’s, Caterpillar, Walmart, and Google. Since then, we’ve expanded to include a broader collection of companies from a wider range of communities.

If you, like Cohen, have recognized that it’s imperative to embrace new recruiting and talent development strategies to build a 21st century workforce, visit the ToT Fellowship website to learn more about the program and find out how you can get involved.

What’s It Like to Be a ToT Fellow?

ToT classes and activities take place remotely on a virtual learning platform. Participation in the fellowship requires a commitment of six hours per month.

The yearlong fellowship is divided into two parts: the “Learn” cycle and the “Do” cycle.

In instructional modules developed by leading CTE experts, the Learn cycle covers topics such as the fundamentals of postsecondary CTE programs, how to forge partnerships with community colleges, and how to develop new HR policies and practices that facilitate recruiting through CTE programs.

During the “Do” cycle, fellows assess the skills required in frontline and midlevel positions at their companies, evaluate CTE programs in the areas where their companies have operations, and prepare presentations in which they persuade senior leaders of their organizations to add CTE programs to their recruiting and talent development strategies.

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