How Kirkwood Community College brought customized training to small businesses

Community colleges often struggle to partner with small- and mid-sized employers because custom training is perceived as too costly for these companies. This is a missed opportunity as these businesses comprise a significant part of the regional market in both urban and rural areas. Despite this historically challenging endeavor, Kirkwood Community College successfully captured this often overlooked market with a subscription-based custom training consortium.

Employer-led focus groups incentivize participation

Most institutions rely on advisory board feedback, labor market data, and business surveys to source training ideas, but fail to convert participants to partners. Kirkwood went beyond these traditional sources of feedback to incentivize employer participation through a “pay to play” model: Employers purchase training, and in turn, the college uses their input to isolate the most in-demand training topics.

At the start of each year, the college invites 12 employer partners to present the most acute cross-industry training needs. These are often related to soft-skills, such as leadership and communication. The college then sends a list of possible trainings to consortium members via survey to determine the most relevant topics for the current year.

Kirkwood Community College

Transferable season tickets broaden employer access

Once the training topics are identified, the college hosts monthly four-hour sessions on campus. Employers who wish to participate typically purchase an average of one to six “season tickets” priced low enough to broaden employer access but high enough to maintain employer commitment. The tickets are transferable, so businesses can leverage them as an incentive. This provides training access to a variety of employees, typically ranging from high-potential entry-level staff to middle management.

Think small business, expand to local markets

Since its launch, Kirkwood’s Business Partners Training Consortium has expanded its geographical reach to three neighboring counties and increased the number of partnering employers from 15 to 60. Nearly all participating businesses have an average 500 or fewer employees, proving that Kirkwood has stayed true to its goal of engaging small- and mid-sized businesses.

How this community college increased persistence among students

Read how this community college increased the number of students receiving financial assistance 18-fold and decreased the likelihood of students withdrawing from their writing classes by 300%. Download the case study.

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