Bridge builders have an important role in a post-COVID recovery

A conversation with Ben Wildavsky, SVP National Engagement, Strada Education Network

“In general, we continue to have this real disconnect between supply and demand for skilled workers.”

In this week’s Work in Progress podcast, I talk with Ben Wildavsky, the senior vice president of National Engagement for Strada Education Network. Wildavsky says over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession, and even in the midst of a hiring crisis, it has been clear that the gap between the skills employers want their workers to have and the skills the workers have is still wide.

“There’s a lot of different players involved in the supply and demand. That could be everybody from the individuals who were looking for work or trying to improve their skills–reskilling or upskilling,” explains Wildavsky.

“The education providers who are trying to make sure that their programs are relevant and useful. The employers who are trying to figure out the kinds of people they need, and how do they reach out the right places to get the kind of talent they need.”

That is why, according to Wildavsky, it is important to have intermediaries. These are the programs and people who are in the middle, bringing everyone together to create workable workforce solutions. “Bridge builders can connect a diverse group of stakeholders to create an education-employment system that will help the economy thrive while increasing opportunities for all,” according to Bridge Builders, a report from Strada and Lumina Foundation.

“We know from the studies that we do at Strada, a lot of people really believe they’re going to need more education to get back on their feet or to advance in the workforce, but they’re not quite sure what they need and how to go about it,” says Wildavsky. “Something like intermediaries are really going to be necessary, to just put the right people together to show what needs to be done.”

“They’re getting the right parties to the table. Because they take so many different forms, they could be one of those parties. Sometimes higher education can take the lead. Sometimes employers can take the lead,” he tells me. “Whether it’s a nonprofit intermediary, or an employer, or an education provider, they can tailor the work they do, based on the needs of the community, or the region, or the state that they’re working in.”

In the podcast, Wildavsky and I discuss an example of a nonprofit-led initiative in Mobile, Alabama. Working with local businesses and educators, the goal was to prepare high schools who are ready at graduation to move into a career or college.

“There were just a lot of problems with the way the education system was working, or not working, on the ground to get people better education and to help meet the kinds of needs of the employer community. A bunch of different community organizations got together. They were civic organizations, industry organizations, churches were involved, and they set a very specific goal. They wanted to have 75,000 Mobile residents earn new degrees by 2030.”

The intermediary brokered a mechanism between educators and employers that lead to some of the changes that were needed. The result, he adds, is that after the Graduation Ready initiative was created, the high school graduation rate went up, the number of students who transferred from community colleges to the public university more than tripled.

There are so many more examples of the role a bridge builder, or intermediary, can play in a local community’s workforce development. You can listen to the entire Work in Progress podcast here, or you can download it wherever you get your podcasts.

Download the transcript for this Work in Progress podcast here.

Episode 163: Ben Wildavsky, SVP National Engagement, Strada Education Network
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan LynchMelissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

You can check out all the other podcasts at this link: Work in Progress podcasts

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