Home / Edu-news / Closing the skills gap: Pipelines, reverse transfer, and workforce development

Closing the skills gap: Pipelines, reverse transfer, and workforce development


The skills gap will continue to grow if we don’t make changes now to how students are prepared for the workforce. There are many statistics about the gap, but the two most telling are that 92% of business executives agree there is a skills gap issue, and only 11% of them agree that post-secondary systems are actively preparing students for the workforce. If nothing is done it is estimated there will be six million unfilled jobs by 2020. But people are doing something, many people in fact.

One group was at the forefront of the National Policy Summit (January 28-29, 2017), and the Community College Futures Assembly (January 29-31, 2017). These dedicated leaders have been listening to their constituents, and working to continue conversations with higher education professionals and industry leaders to envision changes that will benefit students and the businesses and organizations that need workers. This powerful group of people includes:

  • Dr. David Pelham from the National Student Clearinghouse,
  • Carrie Samson from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation,
  • Dr. Timothy Wilson from the Bellwether College Consortium,
  • Dr. Dale Campbell from the University of Florida and founder of the Community College Futures Assembly and Bellwether Awards

Below is an insightful interview where they share what they have been doing and how you can get involved.


Dr. Campbell you have been working for quite a few years building the Bellwether College Consortium trying to help solve issues at the community college level. What have you been seeing?

Dr. Dale Campbell: For three years now, we have been working with David Pelham at the National Student Clearinghouse and the work that they have been doing with developing the Reverse Transfer initiative. We could see that it was a solution that could enhance students’ success.

I also received an invitation from the US Chamber Foundation to participate in their Talent Pipeline Management Initiative meeting they held in Washington DC. One of our observations was that in many ways we were pursuing common initiatives that had common goals, but we saw that we were still talking within our old silos. We realized we could get far greater synergy by coming together. Thus the reason why we have co-sponsored the Futures Assembly and Policy Summit. We want to showcase some of these programs from not only the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and National Student Clearinghouse, but from community colleges, many of whom we discovered in Washington DC.

Tim, also from the Bellwether College Consortium perspective, what are you seeing?

Tim Wilson: What we’re seeing on the college provider end is leaders grappling with questions about how do we become more supportive of employers’ needs. We are trying to understand how to recruit students who are already in the workforce, and give them needed skills. As we talked to some of the colleges, we realized training development needed to be more agile, especially in certain areas like IT where the needed skills change rapidly. We have been examining how we address needs more effectively to develop a student who is ready not just with specific industry skills, but also with some of the soft skills such as critical thinking, working in teams, and the ability to analyze in a project-based atmosphere. I would even suggest changing some of the actual training content and curriculum so it is more applicable to the job that students are going into.

So, with this Policy Summit, we are trying to bring a lot of the key decision-makers and stakeholders together to discuss ways to work together, address the situation, and create a new model.

Carrie, at the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, what is your perspective in this larger dialog, and tell us about the Talent Pipeline Management Initiative?

Carrie Samson: Our business community is experiencing a unique scenario where we have both people without jobs and jobs without people. We are very sensitive to this issue because we understand that American competitiveness and the health of our economy rely on a skilled workforce that is able to help business succeed and innovate. We understand we cannot rely on solutions from the past. Today, we need a strategy for the new era, a strategy that addresses the demand for talent in a constantly changing business environment while providing flexibility and responsiveness to those shifting needs. Those are sort of the main concerns that we’ve been trying to address in our Talent Pipeline Management Initiative.

What we’ve tried to do with the Talent Pipeline Management Initiative is to get our employers together first in what we’re calling employer collaborative. It’s critical for these employers to understand they have a significant role to play in narrowing skills gap and that it starts by employers coming together to identify where there are shortages and gathering specifics around the quantitative and qualitative data needed to tackle these challenges.

For example, if a community identifies a critical shortage of nurses, local hospitals and medical centers in the area can come together to confirm that there is a community-wide shortage in this critical job function. Then they determine that they need to have a certain number of nurses available to the community who are able to do X, Y and Z by a certain date. By using real-time data collected from the employers themselves, the collaborative can become a better partner to education providers because employers have done their homework and can confidently share very specific data about what is needed, when it is needed, and what we need students to know specifically. For example, we may know from job descriptions that communication skills are vital for these nursing positions, but an employer collaborative can collectively define exactly what that means. Does it mean public speaking, writing, or does it mean team work? We are trying to get everybody to speak the same language so then education and training systems can be responsive to those needs, which then allows them to be built into real career pathways for their students and not just hypothetical ones.

Dave, how about you? What is your perspective of the current issues from working at the National Student Clearinghouse?

David Pelham: As we’re looking at how to bridge this gap, I think it’s important to understand that for the vast majority of students there isn’t a typical pathway from high school to college to career. Today, the average age of students is well into their twenties and  about 50% of them are mobile. What I mean is that 50% of the students on the average four-year college campus have either transferred in from somewhere else or are going to transfer to another institution. So, those are two really important characteristics to take into account.

So, at the Clearinghouse we have been working on a couple of different ways to help students earn their degrees. One way is trying to make student data on learning, retention, and success flow through the system as seamless as possible to support the students as they’re moving from one place to another. We are conducting research and accumulating data so that we can come up with a more current and more data-based description of what students are doing or not doing.

Another way is that we have created reverse transfer services that we are offering to help facilitate moving credits back from four-year institutions to two-year institutions. A student may have transferred to a four-year institution without completing an associate’s degree. Reverse transfer helps them to get that associate’s degree after they’ve already left the two-year institution and gone to the four-year institution. This is important for a variety of reasons, but again, because students swirl from institution to institution a lot of our systems are not set up to support these students. From the data, we know what they’re doing, so now we’re trying to reverse engineer processes to make sure that we continue to be able to give them meaningful credentials, and allow them to then be better prepared to fill the skills gaps.


Both Futures Assembly and National Policy Summit provide a collaborative platform for these critical conversations and connections to take place. Coming off the conclusion of these events, attendees were able to return to their institutions with new ideas and action items to continue to solve the issues they face. The highlight of the event were the 2017 Bellwether Awards Winners. Congratulations to them all!

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