Earl BufordPresident CAEL Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Appointed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Board of Directors Sector Representation: Nonprofit/Business Group Current term ends December 31, 2023
Earl Buford leads an agency that believes in what he believes in—that adult learners are the backbone of the US economy.
Buford has devoted his career to workforce development and education, aligning adult learners with training and jobs that match their skill set and interests. He has continued this work as the president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) in Indianapolis, Indiana. In this role, Buford oversees CAEL’s mission to improve education-to-career pathways for adult learners by partnering with key stakeholders, including industry leaders, educators, workforce developers, foundations, and community organizations, to identify opportunities that will help adult learners as they navigate their education and employment journeys. The intent is to help adult learners achieve their goals and advance their careers.
Joining CAEL is a marriage of sorts for Buford. He has united his passions for higher education and adult learning with business and industry. He says that he understands that for collective success to occur, industries must invest in programs and education that spur economic development and create jobs within their local communities, while adult learners must make a personal investment in their education and training so they will be ready for the work and fully aware of the options available to them.
Midwest ties, national reputation
Buford is widely recognized for leading diverse partnerships in support of inclusive economic growth through workforce development and coordinated education and training programs, particularly in manufacturing, construction, and emerging sectors such as information technology and biohealth. Prior to joining CAEL, he was the chief executive officer of Partner4Work, the leader of the public workforce system serving Pittsburgh and Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. At Partner4Work, he managed public and private funds that provided inventive solutions to ensure that current and future needs of businesses and job seekers were met. Before joining Partner4Work, he was president and CEO of Employ Milwaukee, at which he received national recognition for implementing and integrating a sector-based approach to workforce development. Buford has also served on then-Vice President Joe Biden’s Advisory Taskforce on Workforce Development.
“One of the things I'm working on is how to bring more funders together to support higher education efforts, especially as we develop training and education requirement agreements with businesses and industry to make sure that our workers and learners have great places to walk into once they complete their learning, that the opportunities are there, and that the pathways are known,” he says, adding that an ongoing challenge is making sure jobseekers have a clear path to a profession.
Bringing higher ed and industry together
That’s why he believes it’s crucial to facilitate conversations with higher education and industry leaders to help each understand what the other’s needs are and understand how adult learners move through higher education and training. When these entities come together, he says, “it’s easier for our job seekers to really understand where they’re going based on their desires but also on what training they need and what opportunities are there or what areas of high growth are down the road.”
He knows firsthand that these kinds of partnerships can be life changing. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee with a BA in history, Buford spent his early career in his hometown working as a director for BIG STEP (Building Industry Group Skilled Trades Employment Program), a workforce organization of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council that prepared workers for the building trades. When BIG STEP merged with Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP), an industrial labor management group, he became the first CEO of this combined effort, now known as WRTP | BIG STEP.
It’s here that he met three of the organization’s leaders and the most professionally influential people in his life. These men held different management positions within the organization: president, association executive, and labor leader.
“They taught me everything that a person needs to know in managing an organization,” he says. “These three gentlemen gave me the best graduate program without having to go to grad school. They taught me everything about advocacy, policy, budgeting, board engagement—you name it, they taught it to me.”
Buford has taken their advice in his own career choices, and he’s used it to shape how he guides others. For example, when possible he hires from within an organization to help individuals build their skills so they can continue to work with the organization. He supports their growth as individuals and as company assets, no matter their location. He tells them “don't be afraid to leave for a great opportunity. That’s good for you and that’s good for us, because now our network is expanded.”
Serving the people
As he transitions into his role with CAEL and to guiding his team, he takes with him his experience as a director on the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Pittsburgh Branch board of directors. He shares industry trends, geographic perspectives, and his expertise in workforce development.
But Buford wants others to know that the work and scope of the Federal Reserve involves more than interest rates. “The fact is, the Fed is talking about workforce and supply and demand and multiple innovations that few would even imagine, along with how can we affect local areas,” he says, adding that several of his contacts have been surprised by the fact that someone who is not an economist can serve and advise the Federal Reserve. “But, yes, that’s the point, that leaders in other industries and sectors, not just banking or economics or finance, are a large part of the conversation. It’s why I’m so proud and excited to be involved.”
Earl Buford often refers to his own upbringing as a cornerstone for how he approaches his work—and it’s clear that he’s proud of his parents and their achievements. He was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the oldest of three children, to parents who were teens when they married. His father “went from training program to training program” until he connected with a community organization whose training program was directly tied to Delco Electronics. He finished that training and subsequently worked at Delco for 30 years. His mother went back to college and became a teacher, fostering a love of learning in Buford and his two sisters.
Buford enjoys live concerts, but during the pandemic he’s considered other sources of entertainment, creating a list of new hobbies to try, 25 so far. He has joined a virtual wine tasting club at the invitation of a banking partner. The club buys its wines in bulk from small wineries around the country and sends each member three bottles per month to sample and discuss.