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Win-Win: How Employers and Community Colleges are Building the Diverse Future Workforce

August 10, 2023

At a Glance

To solve talent challenges, Jobs for the Future (JFF)’s Talent of Tomorrow program helps implement workforce training programs that prioritize candidates’ skills and experience over four-year degrees.

Jennifer Freeman Senior Director
Jessica Toglia Senior Program Manager
Practices & Centers

The answer for employers working to fill vacancies in their labor force? Partnerships with community college Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

Employers involved in Jobs for the Future (JFF)’s Talent of Tomorrow fellowship, a program that connects human resources professionals to community college CTE programs, designed solutions that helped build more robust and reliable talent pipelines, diversify their workforce, and deploy industry-responsive training programs for new hires.

JFF created the Talent of Tomorrow program as part of ECMC Foundation’s CTE Leadership Collaborative initiative to help HR professionals understand how community colleges can help them find skilled workers. Many employers continue to lean on four-year colleges for recruitment and view a bachelor’s degree as a proxy for skills. Talent of Tomorrow helped HR professionals build awareness that community college students holding certifications and two-year degrees bring the skills employers are seeking.

As a result, Talent of Tomorrow participants developed equitable talent acquisition solutions aided by a new understanding of the depth and breadth of community college programs. In the words of fellowship participant Ellysa Smith, formerly of Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF):

… [my perception] completely changed- there is, I think, a negative perception …of those who went to community college. And that perception really broke down from all the assumptions that I had and was rebuilt.

Ellysa Smith, formerly of Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF)

In Florida, Crystal Davidson of iBUILD USA helped address the severe shortage of qualified workers in the construction industry by partnering with programs for people returning from incarceration. iBUILD USA supports over 400 commercial contractors throughout Florida to identify talent. To build a more robust pipeline of workers, Davidson is working to develop pre-apprenticeship programs at six different sites to help people returning from incarceration develop the skills needed to enter apprenticeship programs sponsored by Florida contractors. She is partnering with local technical and community colleges that serve as trainers and collaborated with three types of institutions to identify talent: two Department of Corrections institutions, two juvenile justice centers, and two pre-release programs. As Davidson points out, “Hiring returning citizens from prison is a win-win situation for both the individuals themselves and society as a whole. It provides opportunities for those who may otherwise struggle to find employment, reduces recidivism rates, and can be cost-effective for employers.”

Tadd Wamester, director of partnership development at EnGen, built a more diverse team through skills-based hiring and an apprenticeship program. The EnGen platform enables companies to provide their immigrant workforces with career-specific English language instruction, so it made sense to hire a workforce resembling their learners across roles ranging from product development to language coach. To diversify its talent pool, EnGen first conducted a companywide skills assessment to understand the comprehensive set of skills the team already possessed, removed the bachelor’s degree requirement from all job descriptions and then worked with community colleges to identify new applicants to recruit for the skill sets the existing team leveraged in their work. EnGen is also developing an apprenticeship program for language coaches to help encourage more diversity within its coaching staff.

Dena Wilkinson, HR business partner from Stotz Equipment, is creating an internal training program that incentivizes technicians to serve as mentors, and therefore addresses a critical need for diesel service technicians and mechanics at John Deere dealerships. Technicians trained at community college programs can benefit from mentorship and on-the-job training, but existing service technicians are often hesitant to serve as mentors for fear that it would negatively impact their efficiency and incentive pay. Wilkinson advocated for a new system of compensation and incentives to encourage technicians to serve as mentors—a vital first step to developing the customized training program in partnership with local high schools and community colleges.

Inspired by his ToT Fellowship in 2022, David Dillon, senior manager of workforce strategy at Cognizant, aims to bridge the gaps between education, employment, and skills development through various apprenticeships and skills-based “train-and-hire” programs. He worked with Borough of Manhattan Community College to secure a grant from the National Science Foundation to strengthen the New York City region’s secure mobile programming workforce, while guiding students of color and women of all backgrounds into quality careers. Throughout this effort, Cognizant will share critical skills requirements and regional labor market data with faculty to cultivate a more highly skilled mobile programming workforce in the New York City area.


As beneficial as these partnerships are for employers and people seeking to advance, the program could be far more successful if more employers partner with community colleges. Joe Fuller, a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and co-chair of the Managing the Future of Work initiative, notes in his report, The Partnership Imperative, “The current state of collaboration is failing to meet today’s business needs and putting future competitiveness and prosperity at risk.”

At JFF, we strive to unlock the potential of business-community college partnerships to help solve these important talent needs for companies, and to create greater opportunity for community college students.

Initiatives like Talent of Tomorrow help showcase a scalable method for community college systems to develop systemic solutions to talent pipeline and training needs, working with employers. We envision a productive future in which these partnerships become the norm for a thriving economy. Learn more about the Talent of Tomorrow fellowship here or by contacting Jessica at

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