A leader among Historically Black Colleges & Universities reflects on the need to revolutionize higher education.

There is an African proverb that has always resonated with me. It states: “One bracelet cannot jingle, but a multitude can make a mighty sound.” Another says, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” These frameworks have always reminded me of the importance of working together for a greater good.

During this year of unprecedented challenges, I’ve found myself thinking of these proverbs. As many of us sheltered in place, days turned into months of isolation. Yet this challenge was no match for our resilience and teamwork.

I realized that although we were all advised to socially distance, our educational system needed to expand our outreach and scope to undergird the professional success of those in our workforce. Overnight we witnessed not only health care professionals but clerks, drivers, warehouse personnel, customer service operators, and food service workers become rightfully named essential workers. And thousands of professionals with college degrees became unemployed. I realized that my work in higher education and leadership development needed an inclusive approach.

Not only would colleges and universities like my own need to immediately retool our graduates to re-enter the workforce, but we would also need to train non-degreed essential workers who were helping to maintain our fragile economy. For America to thrive, both groups need soft skills training in areas such as adaptability and work ethic, effective communication, leadership, and conflict resolution, to name a few. Hence, I expanded my work to lead efforts that will ultimately interconnect soft skills training for college students and non-degree holders who are within our nation’s workforce.

We all know that not everyone will go to college, but everyone needs education and professional training to be successful. And by providing access to soft skills instruction, we can help more individuals develop competencies that will help them succeed. In doing so, my hope is that our workforce will become as efficient, effective, and as unbreakable as those “sticks in a bundle.” This is what gives me hope for a brighter future.

Dr. Melva Williams is vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management at Southern Shreveport. She is also a Presidential Leadership Scholar.