Press-Republican

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May 26, 2013

Business, community colleges unite

Two weeks ago, I attended the State University of New York’s (SUNY) Summit on Community Colleges and the Future on New York’s Workforce hosted by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. The event brought 30 community colleges and their business and industry partners together to discuss building a 21st century workforce in New York.

The list of business attendees was impressive. Representative from Global Foundries, GE, Raymond Corporation, IBM, Keller Technology and the Buffalo-Niagara Alliance to name a few, plus me. It was like one of those children’s puzzle books, which one doesn’t belong?

While I was the executive director of the North Country Workforce Investment Board, we held two “Connecting Business, Education and the Community” summits in Lake Placid. I found it interesting that the conversations around business/education partnerships were similar at both events.

At both summits, private-sector businesses made it clear that strong partnerships are needed to align employer needs with contemporary education. The common goal is to ensure that New York has a competitive workforce.

The challenge is that the word “partnership” means different things to different people. There was a lot of discussion about what makes a successful partnership. You can imagine that no two partnerships are identical. At one point, Johanna Duncan-Poitier, the SUNY’s senior vice chancellor for community colleges, asked me to be prepared to articulate what were the key elements of successful partnerships.

I came up with the following list:

1. Relationships and trust — you need to have not only “the right people” at the table, but preferably people with a history of working together. There needs to be a “shared risk/shared reward” mentality; neither side should carry the majority of the risk or reap the majority of the reward.

2. A well-defined purpose — members of the partnership need to know clearly what goal they need to achieve. Equally important is the need to have measurable outcomes.

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