By Tony Hurst, Program Associate, Corporate Voices for Working Families

In a recent blog, Nicole Yohalem, of the Forum for Youth Investment, described the Gateway to College program at Portland Community College which helps youth who have dropped out of high school earn a diploma and college credit concurrently. Gateway to College acknowledges that only two-thirds of high school students graduate, while only 20 percent of those who enter two-year institutions complete their degree within three years.

At Corporate Voices for Working Families, for example, we are working hard to address this national challenge and others related to the inadequate preparation of young adults to excel in the 21st century economy.  With support from the New Options Project from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we are helping to engage the business community to identify and support alternative pathways to education and employment for disconnected young adults.

Gateway to College pairs 16-to-21 year olds with a mentor to guide them through the rigors of classroom expectations and study habits, through to college placement exams and career choices. The program began in 2000 and with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has been replicated across the United States.

In a parallel effort, Corporate Voices, with the Forum for Youth Investment, is part of the Ready by 21® partnership, which works to prepare youth for college, work and life.  And with generous support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Corporate Voices is continuing to bring the business perspective to the nation’s agenda for postsecondary completion—a critical prerequisite to ensuring a skilled talent pool for a competitive future.

To help employers learn about and share their best practices with each other, we have highlighted several companies in Learn and Earn Micro-Business Case Studies that are working with partners in the educational system to help future and current workers earn a wage while gaining a postsecondary credential.

One example is Georgia Power, which has reached out and partnered with local high schools to offer paid internships so that young people gain the necessary workplace skills. All graduates are eligible for full-time employment at Georgia Power and are much more prepared to enter college. The program has been so successful that its implementation has already begun in Ohio, North Carolina and Washington.

Additionally, UPS partnered with community members in Louisville, Kentucky, to create Metropolitan College in order to reduce their turnover rate that was as high as 70 percent in the late 1990s.  Metropolitan College provides employees an opportunity to earn college credit while still working. The results have been incredible, as turnover rates are now below 20 percent and many of these graduates have worked their way through various career pathways into a mixture of divisions within the company.

And finally, in a recently published report, From an “Ill-Prepared” to a Well Prepared Workforce, Corporate Voices acknowledges that there is a growing education and skills gap perpetuated by students leaving the education systems without the skills they need to succeed.

Through Corporate Voices’ Learn and Earn initiative we work to highlight a variety of ways in which business and community college leaders can partner and work together to prepare the current and future workforce. Business and education must come together to begin a dialogue and examine best practices to ensure that young adults will have the proper skills to succeed in the 21st century job setting.

Both of these best-practice cases highlight companies that are initiating community partnerships to ensure they have a more skilled workforce.  Like Gateway to College, these companies value the importance of aiding their employees in furthering their post-secondary credentials and helping them to ensure they have the skills they need to succeed at work.  If you have a potential Learn and Earn case study, please contact Corporate Voices.