An ATE-funded research project offers a set of tools that educators can use to start new industry partnerships and enhance existing relationships with the employers of their students.
The Workforce Education Implementation Evaluation (WEIE) Framework was developed to help two-year college technical faculty members overcome "the isolation and just the constant drumbeat of work, and trying to cover everything that you've got to cover," said Louise Yarnall, senior research social scientist at SRI International.
The WEIE Framework and research methodology are explained on the project's website:https://www.sri.com/work/projects/community-college-partnerships-instructional-impacts
Yarnall's research for the Community College Partnership Instructional Impacts project (NSF DUE Award # 0903331) identified four key strategies for successful industry-community college workforce education programs. They are
coalition building that focuses on increasing two kinds of program support: social support (e.g., lobbying, engaging potential competitors) and organizational support (e.g. equipment, space);
communications processes that establish the vision, values, and priorities for the partnership's approach to systematic change in workforce preparation;
credibility development that involves having both short-term and long-term plans to demonstrate the workforce program's effectiveness to external audiences; and
contingency preparations that ensure that the workforce program has both the social support and organizational resources to weather changes in labor markets and funding opportunities offered by government, industry, education, and other players.
The WEIE Framework also focuses on four instructional implementation quality indicators:
proof of performance
How to Use WEIE Framework
Yarnall would like educators to use the tools to develop a "culture of reflection" about their industry partnerships and curriculum when they do not have grant support for formal evaluations.
She suggests that workforce educators set aside a portion of their industry advisory committee meetings for short, structured reflections to learn whether they are meeting employers' needs and to gain information that will help them move toward more robust relationships.
She is aware of a group of Florida workforce educators who used the framework "to review their instructional materials, to develop a shared team vision, to identify strengths and weaknesses in their current offerings, and to develop a plan for how to deliver those materials through distance learning."
From the case studies and 80 interviews conducted for the project, Yarnall concluded that it is important for educators to assess whether a workforce curriculum prepares students to be "knowledge-ready," which involves being familiar with basic content in the field, or "transfer-ready," which involves having experience applying that knowledge to workplace tasks.
When she looked closely at a program that relied on the occasional chat-and-snack meeting to interact with employers, she found it had higher reliance on curriculum offering the bare basics and offered fewer opportunities for students to apply their new knowledge. "They were relying a lot on 'canned' content, and they were not getting a lot of traction with the students, and the students were not getting a lot of opportunities after getting through the program," she said.
Another program she studied engaged employers as co-designers of its curriculum; its "transfer-ready" graduates are sought after by industry partners.
Yarnall said during a telephone interview that educators have better results "when you invite industry to have a bigger role—maybe to be your partner from designing lessons to actually coming and visiting the classroom and helping you construct ways to create pathways for internships and apprenticeships."