Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

The Power of "Systemness": A Collaborative Approach Aids Workers in New York State

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

The Power of "Systemness": A Collaborative Approach Aids Workers in New York State

Article excerpt

IN 2012, DR. NANCY L. ZIMPHER, chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, spoke about a new way of looking at the system's complex mechanisms. In her State of the University address early that year, she defined "systemness" as follows:

Systemness is the coordination of multiple components that when working
together create a network of activity that is more powerful than any
action of individual parts on their own. So for a university like SUNY,
that means bringing together and orchestrating our system's
stakeholders--that means students, faculty, staff, boards, councils,
campuses, institutes, centers, the list goes on--in such a way as to
deliver on our goals and realize our mission beyond what we've ever
been able to achieve before. (Zimpher 2012, "Discovering Systemness,"
[paragraph] 5-6)

Even as Dr. Zimpher was outlining her ideas, a prime example of systemness involving all 30 of the SUNY system's community colleges was taking its first steps. The collaboration--the first of its kind within the system--was designed to address a statewide skills gap in well-trained manufacturing workers. Titled Training and Education in Advanced Manufacturing (TEAM), it harnessed the combined resources of these institutions, along with the combined strengths of the relevant industries and governmental workforce agencies, to educate more than 3,000 displaced workers and unemployed veterans in the skills necessary to obtain high-quality, high-paying jobs in the advanced manufacturing sector.


The SUNY TEAM consortium was born in light of a federal call for proposals for funding by the U.S. Department of Labor, which was planning to release the second round of grants through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant Program in 2012. Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010, TAACCCT was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (frequently referred to as "the stimulus bill"), which aimed to get the United States back on good financial footing following the financial crisis of 2007 and beyond.

Through TAACCCT, the government funded projects that allowed workers to complete streamlined skills training in two years or less. The Department of Labor was particularly interested in proposals that brought together diverse stakeholders from across industry and academia. SUNY leadership knew that the deep pool of resources housed at its community colleges across the state could be honed to provide the type of training the government hoped to fund, but it was a bigger project than any single institution could take on.

What happened next was organic, unprecedented, and, ultimately, a resounding success. With the support of SUNY's leadership and the particular guidance of Johanna Duncan-Poitier, SUNY's senior vice chancellor for community colleges, a task force that included members from across the spectrum of these institutions convened to explore the possibility of securing federal funding that would impact the length and breadth of this large state. The successful proposal resulted in a grant of $14.6 million.


The focus of the proposal was clear. New York lacked adequate numbers of workers in mid-level manufacturing fields. According to a report from the National Science and Technology Council (2012), a survey of employers indicated that more than 60 percent of them faced moderate to serious shortages of adequately trained workers for skilled manufacturing jobs.

At the same time, workers were losing their jobs due to outsourcing and trade inequalities. The Economic Policy Institute reported in a briefing paper that 2.4 million jobs had been lost since 2001 due to unbalanced trade policies with China (Scott 2010). Those in the manufacturing sector were particularly affected. In the Capital Region of New York alone, nearly 2,000 unemployed manufacturing workers were eligible for the government's Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which addressed these inequalities by providing the skills, resources, and support needed to become reemployed. …

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