It's visible at the gas pump and the grocery checkout. In December 2021, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) jumped 7 percent, the largest 12-month increase since 1982. Moreover, inflation tends to hurt people at the bottom of the income ladder more than those at the top.
Vermont has long recognized that demographic and economic trends make workforce development a key challenge—and the Community Foundation has long recognized that making the education and training pathways to good jobs more accessible, more visible, and more affordable is a key strategy for closing Vermont’s opportunity gap. It’s easy to draw the line between investing in career training and helping to close opportunity gaps in Vermont. It’s not as easy to figure out how to thoughtfully fund this issue in ways that lead to equitable and impactful outcomes.
On January 22—the same day that the 50th anniversary of the Community College of Vermont was commemorated at the State House—over two dozen funders and philanthropists from across Vermont and New England convened in Montpelier for a conversation about how philanthropy can support career pathways. The New Landscape of Learning: Career Pathways event was part of a series of learning events hosted by the Vermont Community Foundation to help spark connections among funders and to surface insights about the roles for philanthropy to address critical issues.
At the event, funders heard directly from Vermonters who are currently training and working in their fields of interest—nursing, diesel mechanics, and manufacturing—and from systems-level experts including Scott Giles, CEO of the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation; Joyce Judy, president of the Community College of Vermont; Mary Anne Sheahan, executive director of Vermont Talent Pipeline Management; and Roxanne Vought, deputy director of Advance Vermont.
The wide-ranging conversation surfaced many insights and recommendations for funders. Key among them:
- Change the narrative—and make information about training programs and great jobs easier to find. Invest in public communication that de-stigmatizes non-degree pathways like certificates and apprenticeships, celebrates the diversity of training pathways that lead to great jobs, and provides useful information about which credentials employers are looking for. Advance Vermont is leading work in this area.
- When funding training programs, look for quality. Prioritize credentials that are stackable within a larger career pathway and prioritize programs that offer counseling supports to students and that leverage employer partnerships in ways that lead directly to paid jobs.
- Buy local. Some funders suggested investing in the training providers that have the strongest track record serving Vermonters with barriers to training and employment so that we can help them expand their work even farther. This includes the Community College of Vermont, Vermont Technical College, and regional Career & Technical Education Centers, among many others.
- Support the hidden costs of training programs. There’s often a difference between the tuition cost and the “true cost” of a training program. Hidden costs might include textbooks, tools, licensure/certification fees, technical gear and clothing, transportation, and childcare. These costs aren’t covered by traditional scholarships. Innovative scholarship funders are finding ways to cover these costs and to provide emergency aid support (often between $200 - $500) that can mean the difference between stopping/dropping out and continuing in a training program. The Community College of Vermont and others have recently launched emergency grant support programs.
- Fund “Earn & Learn” opportunities. Time and the opportunity cost of a job is another hidden cost of education and training programs for many Vermonters. Training programs that offer wages to students, including apprenticeships, can be a successful recruitment approach for working-class adults. Two of the three student panelists explained that their programs allow them to earn and learn in their field in addition to having the tuition costs of their program covered.
- Scale programs that upskill working-class adults quickly and successfully. These programs typically include intensive screening, hands-on learning, a combination of free tuition and paid wages, wraparound services, and job placement support. An example of a successful program that could be scaled with the help of philanthropy is the LNA à LPN program offered by Central Vermont Medical Center, CCV, and Vermont Tech for which there is a long waiting list of interested LNA applicants. Statewide partners like Vermont Talent Pipeline Management can help us understand how philanthropy can specifically target the bottlenecks that get in the way of expanding these programs.
- Invest in career awareness and academic success early. We know that academic success as early as elementary school is a predictive factor for continuing education and training after high school. We also know that awareness about career pathways should begin early, too. Thanks to the career development progression published by the Vermont Agency of Education, we know what quality career awareness and work-based learning looks like starting as early as kindergarten. One source of public funds to support work-based learning and internships at high schools was recently redirected, resulting in urgent budget issues for many of these programs. If you’re looking to fund this kind of work statewide, Careers CLiC is a great place to start.
This list of approaches for philanthropy – and the list of organizations doing great work in this arena—is not comprehensive. For more detail, watch the video of the panel discussion, which includes a content-rich overview of the issue from Roxanne Vought and personal stories from Vermonters who are currently learning and earning in their fields of study.
If you know of an effort to make career training pathways more accessible that you believe should be on philanthropy’s radar, let us know! The McClure Foundation is seeking Letters of Interest from grantseekers through February 6.