LadderzUP: A Strategic Public-Public Partnership for Regional Workforce Development
Since its founding in 1961, Monroe Community College (MCC), a public institution within the State University of New York (SUNY) system, has earned a reputation as a leader in workforce education in the Upstate New York region. The college’s LadderzUP project, a public-public (PuP) partnership between MCC’s Economic and Workforce Development Center and Monroe County, offers workforce training that links county funding to college educational resources to address persistently difficult to fill positions in industry and provides access to short cycle and accelerated educational programs for individuals seeking a new career.
Less common than public-private partnerships, a PuP collaboration is an agreement between two public authorities or organizations to create a positive impact that is beyond the scope of each organization by itself (Greasley et al., 2008). Inspired by the PuP model, the LadderzUP partnership provides a conceptual framework for rethinking how regional workforce development strategy can be achieved by leveraging flexible, unstructured financial assistance from the county, coupled with the college’s ability to build and administer industry-focused academic and noncredit curricula to rapidly respond to the needs of local businesses.
The result of the LadderzUP PuP partnership has been improved employment opportunities within Monroe County through financially accessible, job-oriented training for students who range from recent high school graduates to employed individuals seeking to upskill their professional education. The alignment of MCC and Monroe County through a PuP model ensures that the training programs available through this partnership are informed by an understanding of the economic development strategy of the region and the workforce needs of Upstate New York’s business community (Adair, Brown-Lonis, & Oldham, 2019).
Context: The Vocational Skills Challenge
Though now almost a decade old, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century (Ferguson, Schwartz, & Symonds, 2011) highlighted the increasing need for technical and middle-skilled workers in the national labor market and the challenge posed from an educational system favoring a four-year degree over career technical programs. Like many community colleges, MCC’s leadership was aware of this growing middle-skills gap in the region and the need to upskill low-skilled and semi-skilled workers that lacked the skills, competencies, and credentials to succeed in the local middle-skilled economy. Middle-skill jobs are those which require a high school diploma and supplemental training, but not a four-year college degree, and they make up approximately half of America’s labor market (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010).
MCC sought a way to alleviate this middle-skills gap. Monroe County was at one time home of “the Big Three”—Eastman Kodak Company, Xerox Corporation, and Bausch & Lomb. While residents could no longer rely on stable career-long positions as these older corporations downsized or moved to other regions, smaller, more nimble companies—many that were formed by former employees of the Big Three—continued in the advanced manufacturing sector, finding the region hospitable despite their need for access to a strong supply of skilled technicians.
Influenced by the Pathways to Prosperity report, as well as examples of historic public-public models like the Boston Compact, MCC approached Monroe County with a proposal for a joint program, funded partly with fluid county resources, to provide educational programming tailored specifically to the workforce needs of mid-sized and smaller businesses. The collaboration between the county and the college was intended to produce measurable outcomes that could not be achieved independently.
With a focus on the needs of the adult learner, the alternative funding model of this public-public workforce partnership allows for more potential job seekers, as well as those wishing to advance in their careers, to be trained for skills- and technically-based occupations and their associated career pathways. By placing a premium on noncredit short cycle and accelerated academic programs, LadderzUP has trained more than 800 participants across 55 companies since its inception in September 2017.
Monroe County committed to supplying the three-year LadderzUP program with up to $1.5 million for the implementation and management of both academic and noncredit training programs, which provides approximately 75 percent of the funding needed to cover the costs of the program over the three-year pilot period. With access to this funding, MCC delivers program curriculum, educational space and equipment, instructors, tuition, fees, books, and tools, as necessary, to address the financial requirements of any given curriculum and its learners.
The agreement for this pilot LadderzUP partnership, signed by MCC and county representatives in September 2017, stipulated that the program would recruit, train, upskill, and place 210 workers annually, for a total of 630 over the first three years of the program. Since the program was unlike anything the county or the college had ever undertaken, the numbers were estimates arrived at by the MCC team.
Areas of focus for LadderzUP training, determined through ongoing consultation with industry and the county, have included health care, information technology, construction, and a variety of advanced manufacturing and applied engineering technologies. The courses have spanned in duration from short-term topics that are covered over several weeks of class time to multi-semester courses, apprenticeships, and sequences leading to certification or other job-related credentials. Classes are designed to be modular and stackable, allowing students to continue toward a college degree or further certification.
The county’s financial support eliminates a major expansion obstacle for businesses. At the same time, it allows employees and job seekers to better position themselves for promotion-oriented positions, armed with certifications in areas ranging from project management to Lean Six Sigma.
As of November 2019, 807 participants have participated in one of the programs, well over the three-year goal. Fifty-five companies have been supported in that time through the creation and implementation of 30 employer-focused programs. The Greater Rochester Enterprise, Rochester’s economic development council, now includes LadderzUP in the portfolio of benefits as part of the region’s business attraction strategy. Two companies have cited the availability of LadderzUP funding as a key reason in their decision to relocate to Rochester.
Data-Driven Job Development
Creation of a LadderzUP training program begins in consultation with regional industry representatives. MCC recruitment and marketing staff connect with companies that are hiring to determine if there is an insufficient pool of potential workers presently in the market. The MCC team, with assistance from Monroe County, seeks out companies that would benefit from targeted training using formal business-to-business best practices. Using this approach, the college has developed and maintained an extensive database of local corporations. Maintenance of these college-industry partnerships is a high priority, with more than 70 percent of the database containing companies with whom the college has worked previously.
Another tool used by the MCC group to seek out potential business clients for LadderzUP training, as well as to provide vital information to both job seekers and industry, is a website created by the college’s Economic and Workforce Development Center: mcclmi.com. This homegrown site provides a deep dive into supply and demand analyses for over 23 middle-skilled occupational groups monitoring over 108 technical occupations in the Upstate New York region. Although not specifically designed for LadderzUP, information from the site is leveraged to inform the analysis of career pathways and associated graduate wage progression for related programming.
A certified nursing assistant (CNA) program was one early success, created in conjunction with local health care institutions including Monroe Community Hospital and several facilities for the aging. This program was developed, filled, and launched in 2.5 months in response to the strong need for these workers in the local economy. The first cohort graduated in March 2019; there have been six more cohorts since. LadderzUP covered program launch costs, including lab and development fees and student costs not borne by hiring employers. The program has achieved a 95 percent completion rate and 95 percent pass rate on the New York State certified CNA exam. Of the 109 individuals who have completed this training, 95 percent now have jobs in their field.
Another successful LadderzUP program—the most popular to date—focused on problem solving and decision making for process improvement. It was created at the request of a global maker of lab supplies. MCC worked with staff at the company’s Rochester headquarters to create a targeted 16-hour training program with nine sections of instruction delivered at the company site by MCC faculty. LadderzUP funded all books and materials for the 113 students.
Other sample programs, though with fewer participants, have met the demonstrated needs of MCC’s industry partners:
- Mechanical and electrical apprenticeship programs featuring four semesters of instruction were developed in conjunction with two large advanced manufacturers. Financial support from LadderzUP resulted in 25 students receiving credit and noncredit training specifically designed to allow them to assume growth-oriented positions within the companies.
- At the request of an industrial heating solutions supplier, a sheet metal fabricator, and a medical equipment manufacturer, MCC created and implemented a project management program. To date, with eighty-three individuals have graduated from the program.
- Several preexisting CTE programs, including a 22-week, accelerated 32-credit precision machining certificate and a medical office assistant certificate, have received LadderzUP funding to support the cost of books, tools, and fees for students in need. Some program graduates, including 10 percent of the LadderzUP precision tooling students, continue their education in pursuit of an associate’s degree.
The Future of LadderzUP
Funded through 2021, the MCC team is exploring ways to expand LadderzUP in a number of areas. There is room for expansion in the health care cluster, and the college is exploring an accelerated first-semester HVAC program to create a stackable pathway into the two-year HVAC degree. Program development is in process for tracks in cloud computing and training to address a variety of Industry 4.0 technologies like robotics, augmented reality, and a variety of smart technologies. Broadening the worker base, MCC is also exploring how funding can be used to create more skill-based options to support reentry training for incarcerated individuals in partnership with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.
As the college finalizes plans to build a new Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center, a 50,000 square foot facility located in downtown Rochester, the success of the LadderzUP PuP model is shaping how MCC plans to design, deliver, and fund new programming aimed at accelerated, cohort, and stackable curriculum models to a wide range of potential workers, including building a direct pipeline to local area high schools. As a case study, the LadderzUP program has clearly demonstrated a market for targeted middle-skills training in Upstate New York. Although it is too early to fully envision the long-term results of LadderzUP, the interim success of the program merits continued attention as a funding model for future initiatives involving robust offerings of noncredit industry programming. It also offers strong evidence to suggest that the tripartite cooperation of local or regional government, industry, and higher education is a winning one, and worth exploring in other regions. Considering that the three-year program exceeded its goal of training a total of 630 workers within its second year, it seems likely that this demonstrated success will make such PuP models a priority for both colleges and local government in developing a more dynamic and responsive regional workforce system.
Adair, J., Brown-Lonis, K., & Oldham, T. (2019, October). LadderzUP: Creating a local public-public partnership. Breakout session presented at the New York Association of Training & Education Professionals conference, Rochester, NY.
Carnevale, A., Smith, N., & Strohl, J. (2010). Help wanted: Projections of jobs and education requirements through 2018. Retrieved from cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/help-wanted/
Ferguson R., Schwartz, R. B., & Symonds, W. C. (2011). Pathways to prosperity: Meeting the challenge of preparing young Americans for the 21st century. Report issued by the Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Greasley, K., Watson, P., & Patel, S. (2008). The formation of public‐public partnerships: A case study examination of collaboration on a “back to work” initiative. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 21(3), pp. 305-313. Retrieved from www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/09513550810863204/full/html?skipTracking=true
Dr. Todd M. Oldham is Vice President for Economic Development, Workforce and Career Technical Education at Monroe Community College in Brighton, New York.
Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.