The Appalachia Partnership Initiative's Investments in Education, Workforce Development, and Catalyzing the Community

Reflections from 2014 Through 2019

by Gabriella C. Gonzalez, Nupur Nanda, Shelly Culbertson, Harold D. Green, Kristin J. Leuschner

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Research Questions

  1. How did the API's programs and activities evolve and adapt to meet the API's vision and strategy?
  2. What was the geographic scope of API programs and which beneficiaries did the programs reach?
  3. What impacts did interviewees report the portfolio having on key outputs?
  4. In what ways were API leaders and programs connected with each other and with other stakeholders in the region?
  5. To what extent can API-funded programs continue into the future?
  6. What can other regions or consortia of funders in the United States learn from the experience of API?

RAND researchers assess the Appalachia Partnership Initiative (API)'s progress toward its goals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for grades K–12; energy and advanced manufacturing workforce development; and community building from 2014 through 2019.

This report should interest (1) Appalachian regional education, business, and community leaders concerned with STEM education and career readiness of workers in the energy and advanced manufacturing sectors; (2) policymakers elsewhere in the United States interested in promoting STEM education and workforce development through public-private partnerships; and (3) policy analysts interested in how program evaluation can help to advance regional innovation.

The authors found that API set an ambitious, next-generation vision to improve the region's energy and manufacturing education and employment ecosystem in support of broader economic development through investing in particular programs and catalyzing a community of likeminded stakeholders to work toward these goals. The initiative made progress in improving awareness, skills acquisition, professional development, and industry engagement and skills alignment. Programs engaged with employers in many ways, including through advising and collaboration in training. Our analyses also found that gaps remained. Negative perceptions and lack of awareness of jobs in energy and advanced manufacturing persisted in the region, and programs struggled to keep up with evolving industry demands.

To support and sustain regional K–12 STEM education and workforce development systems, it is vital to continue to support programs' continual evolution, build awareness about STEM education and employment opportunities, and leverage connections among the private sector, education institutions, and government entities.

Key Findings

  • All of the API's K–12 STEM and workforce development programs addressed awareness about STEM skills, knowledge, and careers in some way, but lack of awareness of jobs in energy and advanced manufacturing persisted, which some interviewees reported was responsible for low enrollment in some programs and related career pathways.
  • To support skills acquisition, K–12 STEM education included hands-on and project-based instructional models while workforce programs focused on preparation to enter certain fields through certifications, permits, and associate's degrees.
  • Most K–12 STEM efforts included a professional development component, with 3,236 teachers and school staff receiving professional development training through December 2019.
  • Program administrators reported that industry engagement was critical but that they encountered challenges in keeping up with evolving industry demands.
  • API STEM program administrators reported collaborating with one another, with external funders, with state and national policymakers, and with higher education institutions. Local partnerships played an especially crucial role, whether through direct funding or in-kind support for program elements such as professional development and curriculum development.
  • Program administrators who reported that they had a financially sustainable model to continue their efforts typically were those with a diverse set of funding sources. Programs adopted several strategies to promote sustainability, such as using API funding as seed funding to attract other funders, charging fees, or using API funding to build initial capacity for a program that could then be continued into the future.

Recommendations

  • Improve K–12 STEM education and energy and manufacturing workforce development in a region by engaging business, education, and community partners in undertaking the following steps.
  • Build awareness of and excitement about STEM careers by exposing K–12 students to more hands-on learning opportunities.
  • Provide on-the-job work experiences for middle and high school students.
  • Support the creation of industry-driven public-private partnership models.
  • Support micro- or flexible credentialing embedded within career pathway models.
  • Build a comprehensive web-based career information portal.

This research was sponsored by Chevron Corporation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor and RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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