By Tony Sheridan, Chamber of Commerce ECT
A few years ago, there was a popular bumper sticker that instructed people to “think globally, act locally”. As a bit of political philosophy, it could be applied to any number of issues, but there is one area today where we would benefit from taking that advice.
I am writing about the need to take into account the demands of the global marketplace when we fashion education policies on the local level. There have been more than a few instances where we could do better in matching the students emerging from our education system and the rapidly changing needs of the global market.
We’ve all read the news stories about jobs that go begging because there is a significant mismatch between the available skill sets and the needs of the marketplace in this interconnected, fast-pace world in which we live. There are many efforts underway to help rectify this concern. In eastern Connecticut the Eastern Workforce Investment Board, under the able leadership of John Beauregard, coordinates efforts in our region to use federal and state funds to increase the competitiveness of our workforce, but they can’t do it alone. We all have a stake in addressing to this concern.
That’s why we organized a business breakfast with higher education leaders in our region. The panel discussion centered on the need to educate well and competitively, training students for a difficult economy where no job is guaranteed.
The panelists in this important program: Michael Alfultis, director of the UConn branch at Avery Point; and the presidents of three colleges in our region: Leo I. Higdon Jr., Connecticut College; Dr. Grace S. Jones, Three Rivers Community College; and Mary Ellen Jukoski of Mitchell College. Congressman Joe Courtney was also on hand to open this discussion. Earlier this year, the ridiculously high turn out for a job fair coordinated by the Chamber and Courtney spoke to the urgent need of matching employers with the unemployed and increasing the availability of job training programs.
Representatives from the Chamber's very active Education Council were on hand to share information on experiential education programs they are running, including job shadowing and a fun, interactive career exploration panel called "Whose Job is it, Anyway?" To learn more about the council, please visit www.chamberect.com/bec.
The importance of the panel discussion has been demonstrated in more than a few news articles and reports from groups concerned about the issue. One recent report on WNPR pointed out that Connecticut employers looking for people with information technology skills have more openings than they can fill.
Last year, a national survey of more than 1,100 manufacturing executives found that nearly 70 percent of them had from moderate to severe shortages of qualified workers available to work. That same report estimated that nationally there were 600,000 jobs going unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates.
That this is occurring during a time of high unemployment suggests the importance of training programs to help those left jobless to rejoin the workforce in a new capacity. A major part of this effort is done at our regional colleges. We must be sure to support their ongoing initiatives to support career placement and keeping the cost of education affordable to those who seek it.