Helping Higher Ed Connect to Workforce

Recently, AccessU attended the 2023 Virginia Hire Ed Conference as a sponsor, as well as a key partner for VCCS and many other community colleges and workforce preparation programs across Virginia. Hosted annually by Virginia’s Community Colleges, this conference brings together community colleges and workforce agency representatives to discuss innovative collaborations to fill jobs in critical need areas and enhance the lives of Virginians across the Commonwealth.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Communication, Collaboration, Partnership,” a message that was underscored by everyone in attendance as well as the presenters, who all emphasized that these three areas are crucial to addressing workforce shortages in Virginia.


The statement “People don’t know” was a common sentiment expressed by both presenters and participants. Community colleges and workforce development partners offer excellent opportunities for quick learning at an affordable cost with almost immediate job placement. However, the leaders in the field find that breaking through the noise to ensure students and job seekers hear about these opportunities can be difficult. The average person is inundated with online marketing, email messages, text alerts, push notifications, and more.

There is no perfect solution for communication, but those who have had the most success emphasize the importance of listening to their audience. Whether through focus groups, surveys, or individual conversations, understanding audience behavior and how they seek information is the key to a successful communication strategy. Conducting this work at the outset of communications planning allows for more efficiency and targeting in any communication strategy implemented.


“One System, Stronger Together” was the secondary headline for the Higher Ed Conference and exemplifies the success of collaboration throughout the community college system. This idea shined in every presentation, where panelists shared their successes partnering with their peers, as well as industry, to better respond to local and regional needs. Attendees actively contributed and brainstormed with presenters and each other on how colleges, business, and local government can approach skills training and job placement through new methods that allow each partner to shine.

During a session on addressing enrollment, participants brainstormed together about successes and obstacles they see in their colleges’ current practices, leveraging the experience of others to discuss solutions to contemporary concerns and build relationships that will fuel future success. While each community college is unique, they also face similar challenges. Embracing these challenges and working together to determine outcomes creates efficiency and amplifies the impact of a single school. Collaborating with colleagues is an important resource as community colleges look to redefine learning and create workforce readiness solutions that benefit students and employers.


The Hire Ed Conference featured several successful partnerships with the same commonality – partnerships between agencies with mutual interests. The opening session panel discussion featured workforce leaders and industry innovators who echoed that there is no wrong door for people to receive training to get on the job, and working together is what helps everyone achieve their goals.

As industry and technology continue to change, it is imperative that institutions of learning work with employers to create a common language about these roles. Advancements are occurring faster than ever, and people are training for jobs that did not exist ten years ago. This creates a barrier to entry for those unfamiliar with the industry, the role, or how they might be able to learn the skills for the opportunity. Workforce leaders and educational institutions have an opportunity to join forces and present a unified message to students and job seekers that education is there FOR them, and businesses are poised and ready to hire.

Walking away from the conference, we continue to reflect on the necessity to change the narrative of trade jobs and community colleges. Communication, collaboration and partnership are the tools to get there. Increasing awareness of the workforce development offerings that community colleges can offer, working stronger by working together, and building partnerships are all keys to ensuring the future success of community colleges.

Want to learn more? Let’s do something big.

About the Author

Brenda Drake

Brenda is a seasoned communications professional who is passionate about education and how it transforms lives. For more than 19 years, she helped educational institutions tell their stories to stakeholders in compelling ways. Brenda continually aims to assist organizations in making a significant impact. Her experience in education prepared her...

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