Over the course of the last few months, the pandemic has caused thousands of business closures across Prince George’s County, Maryland, and unemployment rates exceeding 10%. As a company that calls Prince George’s County it’s home, we believe now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to give back to our local community and do what we do best—deliver high-quality online higher education—to accelerate the careers of County residents and build the region’s talent pipeline. That’s why 2U is proud to partner with Employ Prince George’s, the principal workforce development entity for Prince George’s County, and the George Washington University College of Professional Studies, to launch the Access 2 Education Scholarship Fund, an affordable way for County residents to access tech-focused training to better equip them for the most in-demand jobs in industries where County residents have been historically underrepresented.
In a conversation with 2U’s Chief Strategy & Engagement Officer David Sutphen, Employ Prince George’s President & CEO Walter Simmons shared his perspective on the importance of workforce development and the value of public-private partnerships to the County. Learn more about why we are working together to meet one of the County’s most critical needs by reading David and Walter’s Q&A below.
David Sutphen: What are the specific challenges and opportunities facing working professionals in Prince George’s County?
Walter Simmons: Prince George’s County has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses have shuttered their doors and unemployment rates have been on the rise. Working professionals are currently navigating these barriers along with the possibility that the job market has potentially changed for the foreseeable future, if not forever. Prior to the pandemic, these professionals were already experiencing their work environments transition to the digital and virtual age—occupations were being phased out due to automation, and the required skills of working professionals were drastically changing.
David Sutphen: How can public-private partnerships move the needle on access to higher education and economic mobility?
Walter Simmons: The intersection between education and economic development is workforce development. The goal of workforce development is to create a talent pipeline that produces a skilled and qualified workforce that meets the needs of local businesses, helping those businesses maximize productivity, increase revenues, and create thousands of job opportunities for residents. To achieve these outcomes, public-private partnerships are key. We need businesses to engage with all workforce partners—including K-12, post-secondary, and higher education—to ensure we are developing our talent pipeline.
To meet the needs of specific industries and occupations, the private sector can also help the public sector fund specialized programs and services. This should be seen as an investment to ensure the private sector’s long term success within a community.
David Sutphen: What can government agencies, universities, and companies do together to achieve equity in higher education and workforce development that they couldn’t do alone?
Walter Simmons: First, we need to improve engagement with community stakeholders that are outside of the K-12 school system. The K-12 system is key to engaging students and engaged parents, but many low-income communities aren’t engaged and aren't communicating at high levels with their schools. They are communicating with entities who are helping them meet their basic needs. Those entities can serve as a bridge to unite everyone.
Second, we need to promote the same programs and opportunities to low-income communities that we do to the middle class and wealthy communities. Low-income communities have talent, but they aren’t being informed or given a pathway toward applying that talent. This leads to the most talented students underachieving due to a lack of access and information.
David Sutphen: What specific value do companies see when they invest in developing local talent?
Walter Simmons: “Invest” is the key word. When a company invests in developing their talent pipeline, they should communicate with whom they are investing to identify how and when they will benefit from that pipeline.
Normally, and specifically with workforce development programs, those businesses that make an investment to fund a training program get the first pick of the program's graduates. This allows them to benefit from their investment. Ideally, those new employees will meet their needs, and the investment was worthwhile.
Additionally, that initial investment can help workforce development entities and education institutions leverage more funding to sustain the programming. This creates a pipeline that will benefit all parties for an extended term.
David Sutphen: Why did Employ Prince George’s partner with 2U to launch the Access 2 Education Scholarship Fund?
Walter Simmons: Employ Prince George’s partnered with 2U to launch the Access 2 Education Scholarship Fund to increase the access to high-quality education for County residents.
2U has been a major job creator for the County’s economy, and we see this as an opportunity to strengthen the partnership and build our talent pipeline. This will help 2U’s continued growth and benefit our local businesses while developing and eventually increasing the household incomes of our residents.
David Sutphen: What lasting impact do you anticipate the scholarship fund will have on the region’s pipeline of technical talent?
Walter Simmons: We want the Access 2 Education Scholarship Scholarship Fund to be a transformative tool that increases the County’s public-private partnerships related to talent development and creates a platform for County businesses and education partners to communicate and develop career pathways.
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