ACCT Leadership Congress

Days 3-4: Nardini, Weekly Close Congress with Calls to 'Step Up'



By: Mark Toner
"Now I'm wondering who is going to fill my shoes."

After accepting the gavel during Thursday’s Congress closing session, 2023-24 ACCT Chair Jay Nardini urged his fellow trustees to continue ACCT’s legacy through involvement with the association.

“Years ago, I sat where you are and pondered whether I had what it takes to [participate in] the leadership of ACCT,” said Nardini, trustee at Hawkeye Community College in Iowa. “Now I’m wondering who is going to step up and fill my shoes. Volunteers are so vital to the life of this organization…Everyone can contribute to the betterment of this organization. It takes time, but we take time for what matters most.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Lawrence Weekly, chief of staff and director of diversity for the College of Southern Nevada echoed the call for community college leaders to “step up,” drawing from his own experience as a student at the same college and community he now serves as a leader.

“My challenge to you is to not be afraid to give someone a chance,” Weekly said. “Community colleges, step up and offer what you have to offer.” Weekly’s comments were followed by the presentation of the Phi Theta Kappa New Century Workforce Pathway Scholarships.

On Wednesday, ACCT Leadership Congress attendees heard a panel of employers and community college leaders share staggering numbers about the nation’s workforce needs: a 2.4 million gap between open positions and those available to take them, the 75 percent of corporate leaders who say the skills gap is among their top priorities, the $15 trillion industry that the energy sector is growing into, and downstream supply chain issues with finding skilled workers that are imperiling even the world’s largest manufacturers.

“It’s the fierce urgency of now,” said Michael Bond, director of community relations for Snap-on Incorporated. “We can’t wait any longer… It’s affecting everything.”

Wednesday’s keynote panel focused on how education and industry can work together to respond to rapidly changing workforce needs. “Community colleges are a fundamental part of the economic landscape of the community,” said moderator Roger Tadajewski, executive director of the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3).

Karolyn Ellingson, head of industrial workforce development for Festo Didactic, repeated what she heard from industry while working in the community college sector and in her current role: “We need it shorter, we need it faster, we don’t necessarily need the degree to go with it, but we need the competencies and skills.”

To that end, Dr. Roger Ramsammy, president of Hudson Valley Community College, outlined the college’s forthcoming $85 million, 130,000-square-foot workforce training center, which will primarily be focused on programs less than a year in duration. He also outlined the college’s work to find what he calls “the invisible workforce,” including disabled workers, dropouts, and refugees. “They are willing and able but often overlooked,” he said.

Michael Hines, North American director of education initiatives and workforce, pointed to one bright spot for workforce development efforts—the incoming generation of workers are heavily invested in climate and sustainability, efforts which are getting a boost from the Inflation Reduction Act’s investments in modernizing infrastructure. “They get excited that industry and business are striving to be more efficient and sustainable, and if they go into that world, they can make a difference,” he said.

Bond urged trustees to use their roles within the community to engage with industry. “Look at your boards as a conduit to the community,” he said. “Connect with businesses and ask them exactly what they need.” And Ellingson stressed the importance of staying abreast of how those needs are evolving. “Think about what your programs need to offer now and how they can expand to meet the needs of the future workforce, because it’s changing—and changing fast.”

Also Wednesday, Congress attendees heard how trustees from several California community college districts are ensuring that their boards are leading efforts to improve equitable outcomes at their institutions. “The bottom line is what do your students need, and how can we focus the efforts of our boards to serve the students we have?” said Nan Gomez-Heitzeberg, trustee for the Kern Community College District and a member of the ACCT Board of Directors.

Trustees stressed the importance of intentional actions, informed by data and driven by an organizational vision. “Organizations and cultures do not create themselves—individuals create cultures and institutions,” added Dr. Sharoni Little, a trustee at Compton College. “Each decision we make, each policy we create, each fiscal allocation has impacts and creates the outcomes.”

More than 1,900 attendees participated in the 2023 ACCT Leadership Congress Oct. 9-12 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  

Registration is now open for the February 2024

Community College National Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C.

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About ACCT

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) is a non-profit educational organization of governing boards, representing more than 6,500 elected and appointed trustees who govern over 1,200 community, technical, and junior colleges in the United States and beyond. For more information, go to Follow ACCT on Twitter @CCTrustees.