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Preparing the Workforce of the Future through Community College Education
Beth Ritter-Guth, Associate Dean of Online Learning & Educational Technology, Northampton Community College
We often believe that the only people able to dream, build, and execute such great dreams are engineers trained at amazing institutions like MIT or Caltech. And while it is true that these passionate dreamers are essential, there is a whole new class of workers needed to make these dreams possible.
What are these new jobs? Who are these new workers? In just Branson’s example, we must think critically about the new kinds of jobs and workers that will be needed to support commercial space travel. A new kind of hospitality professional will be needed to support gravity-free travel. A new line of mechanics will be required to build, fix, and maintain space craft. A new generation of health professionals will be needed to be trained to support life outside of Earth. The question then becomes…who trains them and where?
Since the 1960s, the US Community College system has trained workers in allied health, mechanics, and hospitality professions. Often viewed as “lesser than” four-year degree granting institutions, community colleges have consistently prepared a workforce ready to take on the newest technologies on the market.
At a community college, students are prepared in areas like ethical hacking, criminal justice, supply chain management, and the Internet of Things. While four-year faculty is often caught up in the “publish or perish” mentality, community college faculty is free to focus on student learning, workplace partnerships, and community advocacy. While it will always be critical to train engineers and designers at big name schools, a community college graduate will be poised and ready to work in these emerging industries.
At Northampton Community College, we celebrate innovation and technological advancements. The Smart Apartment Learning Lab engages students and community members in a space completely governed by Alexa. Participants are challenged to think critically about pervasive technologies and learn what to look for in the case of criminal activity. The most dangerous item in the apartment isn’t the large and expensive smart fridge, for example. It’s a twenty-dollar smart infuser from Amazon. This infuser could be used to kill all lifeforms in a room with a simple app installed on a throwaway phone. By helping students and community members think about the new technological world in which they live, we can cultivate a positive environment for responsible technological usage.
The world is changing rapidly as new technologies emerge, and a new workforce is required to be trained as builders, breakers, and defenders of these technologies. Community Colleges are well equipped, with appropriate funding and community support, to meet these new demands. The ability for most community colleges to pivot and focus on new technologies is paramount to industrial success.
The world is changing rapidly as new technologies emerge, and a new workforce is required to be trained as builders, breakers, and defenders of these technologies. Community Colleges are well equipped, with appropriate funding and community support, to meet these new demands.
The largest hurdle for community colleges is always funding. Most big donations are sent to four-year colleges and universities and community colleges are left in the wind to figure out how to support innovation on a shoestring budget. Community and industrial leaders can help community colleges by recognizing their needs and partnering for success. Donations of money are always helpful, but opportunities for students, to work with emerging technology, are even more important.
It would be an honor for students at Northampton to work on one of Virgin Galactic spacecrafts as a mechanic, nurse, or flight attendant. Opportunities like this are rare, as many still look to the four-year schools for workers. But, my dream, like Sir Branson’s dream, is that one day, all educational opportunities will be considered equally valuable and viable in the workforce of tomorrow.