Building Healthy Communities by Connecting Education and the Workforce
By Kip Hottman
As I reflect upon the upcoming election day and my civic duty to engage in our democratic process, one simple question continues to linger in my mind: “What grows a healthy community?” If you had asked me one year ago, my immediate response would have been “education.” Education was the world I lived for 15 years, eventually equipping me with a deep understanding of the inequities that plague our school systems and create barriers for our students, many of whom live in poverty. My passion for dismantling these barriers led me to serve as a Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher Fellow from 2013–2015, where I embraced teacher leadership and collaborated with other like-minded educators searching for solutions to educational inequities.
My philosophy fundamentally shifted this year when I accepted a new position as Networks Manager with Hope Street Group (HSG), where I still support teachers in HSG’s Teacher Fellow Network, but also have the privilege of engaging communities within three workforce networks: retail, manufacturing and healthcare. I’ve realized that my limited exposure of a student’s life “post-graduation” has hindered my understanding of the workforce. Barriers don’t dissipate after high school, and it’s a shared responsibility of the education systems, career developers and healthcare providers to meet the needs of citizens and grow healthy communities. These stakeholders must be in collaboration and in constant conversation about solutions, but this coordination seems all too rare.
My philosophical shift was confirmed on October 24–25 when HSG and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions convened in New Orleans, creating a safe space for more than 160 healthcare professionals to share best practices in developing their frontline workforce. Through our Health Career Pathways Network (HCPN), HSG models and supports a competency-based approach to sourcing, hiring and advancing talent to strengthen employers’ ability to provide quality care within their communities. The October summit called Healthcare Connect opened my eyes to a world of passionate healthcare professionals inspired to break down existing barriers that prohibit frontline workers from accessing economic opportunity. Through multiple conversations with attendees, I was struck by the similarities in workforce development challenges and those in education systems. The passion and advocacy of the attendees to solve those problems, though, was unavoidable, it was infectious, and this is the same intensity I’ve observed working in both suburban and urban school districts. I just wished there had been other educators in the room to enjoy discussions with healthcare professionals and draw commonalities in their work.
Our society buzzes with lightning-fast communication, and yet most of the messaging we send and receive is transmitted up and down the same sector silo. We survive in isolated networks, or “echo chambers,” when we can clearly do better by uniting passions and resources to address community needs.
Online, we’re working intentionally to drive conversation between HSG’s education and workforce communities, and my experience at Healthcare Connect has reinforced this need. I now realize:
- Organizations strategically elevating and celebrating education and workforce best practices increases awareness among the public. It’s not “your students” or “their patients” or “those workers” — these entities are all people who need structures and supports to access opportunity and achieve success. Understanding the mission and vision of schools, businesses and organizations enables those sharing, and those tuned in, to most compellingly and appropriately connect the dots.
- We must make deliberate contact with practitioners outside of our current industry and expand our Professional Learning Network (PLN). The experiences of others are often overlooked when we are siloed and focused on our own passions, our own roles in our systems. We miss opportunities to learn from each other.
- Social media can be a strong connective tissue when used professionally. Virtual collaboration is key when bridging the gap that currently exists between education and workforce. For example, Twitter chats have long served to connect HSG Teacher Fellows and other education stakeholders across states, and across many time zones. On Monday, November 5, at both 4pm and 8pm, we’ll lead Twitter conversations using the hashtag #HSGPrep to talk about these commonalities in preparing students and preparing employees for success.
- Face-to-face convenings among members of different networks will drive multiple stakeholders to the same conversation, and build upon the virtual connectivity. Workshop and design thinking sessions merge multiple perspectives and offer opportunities for prototype creation and/or solutions crucial to growing a community. (ECET2, Teach to Lead and EDCamp conferences are models from the Ed world that can be adapted to join teacher leaders with workforce professionals.)
So where do we go from here? What are our immediate action steps? The recommendations bulleted above are a wonderful starting point for members of all networks searching for ways to break down the barriers of industry isolation. No matter how or where we decide to engage, what is imperative is that we DO decide to engage. Honest and intentional collaboration across education systems and industries is key if we intend to grow healthy communities.
Read more takeaways from the Healthcare Connect sessions I attended via National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and share your thoughts with us at anytime on social media using #HealthOpportunity.
Kip Hottman is Networks Manager for Hope Street Group, previously serving as a National Board Certified Spanish teacher and teacher leader in Kentucky for 15 years. Follow Kip’s coordination of Hope Street Group’s social media strategy and network mobilization on Twitter via @HSG_Workforce, @HSG_Ed and @HopeStreetGroup, and on LinkedIn. His personal handle is @KipHottman.