The Role of Community and Technical Colleges in Economic Development
Increasingly, developing a skilled labor pool is recognized as a major economic development strategy for communities and states alike. In 2005-06 Washington’s community and technical college system examined its role in contributing to the state’s economic vitality. A summary of the findings follow below. The outcomes of the examination are found imbedded in the goals and strategies set forth in the State Board’s System Direction, especially under the headed of economic demand.
Demands of the State's Economy
Businesses demand productivity increases and adaptation, thus, requiring workers to continually increase skills, adapt to new processes and solve new problems.
- Nearly 50 percent of new jobs will require at least some college, an associate’s degree, or baccalaureate-plus.
- Eighteen percent of current workers need further formal training in community and technical colleges or private vocational schools.
- Current workers in greatest need of additional training are in construction, services, finance, insurance, real estate, transportation, warehousing, and utilities.
- About one-third of employers say their need for workers with postsecondary training will increase over the next five years.
Hiring difficulties impact the economy.
- In 2003, 22,700 employers (11 percent) had trouble finding workers with either vocational certificate or two-year degree.
- If nothing is done, employers will only find 79 percent of the workers with the certificates or two-year degrees they need in 2010.
- At the same time, 14,300 employers (7 percent) had difficulty finding workers with a bachelor’s, masters or Ph.D.
- Unmet demand for workers at the baccalaureate-plus level is found in engineering, software, architecture, computer science, medical, and human and protective services.
Businesses find it especially difficult to find workers with occupations-specific skills, problem-solving and critical thinking, positive habits and attitudes, and communication and team work skills.
Washington is facing a shortage of knowledgeable and skilled workers. The growing gap between the economy’s requirements and the labor force’s knowledge and skills is caused by well-educated baby boomers leaving the work force, and lesser-educated people entering the work force with more people lacking high school diplomas and English language fluency.
Washington’s expanding knowledge based economy requires higher levels of knowledge, skills and creativity among its people:
- Current and future industry skill gaps at all education levels cause businesses to import workers, go without necessary employees, and causes lower sales, diminished services and decreased productivity.
- Globalization and technological change require business to continually increase productivity and workers to adapt to new processes/technologies and solve problems in the work environment.
- Innovation and the importance of “making better things” require creativity and innovation among all workers.
A talented, creative and well educated work force is essential to Washington’s economic sustainability, growth and vitality.
- A workforce equipped to meet the needs of key industries is a necessary condition for economic development – both attracting and growing new jobs.
- As the factors that once attracted companies to certain locations (natural resources, ports, etc.) become less important and knowledge becomes more important, a talented workforce is the leading factor that attracts companies.
What Needs to Happen?
- The college system will need to expand capacity in industries with supply/demand gaps, especially in the state’s strategic industries.
- The economy can’t grow without raising the knowledge and skill levels of all current and future workers. In fact, workforce development is a leading economic development strategy used successfully in other regions and countries.
- The college system will need to serve a greater share of the state’s population to raise the knowledge and skill levels of its citizenry, with emphasis on underserved populations such as low-income adults and working adults.
- Colleges can improve retention and transition of students to meet the demands of the economy. We need to raise knowledge and skill levels more quickly with fewer leaks in the pipeline.
- The college system needs to develop more mechanisms for continuous knowledge and skill improvement, including education and training for people who are already working.
What Role Can Community and Technical Colleges Play in the State's Prosperity?
A well educated citizenry is essential to a growing knowledge based economy.
All sectors of education and higher education can and must do their part including community and technical colleges.
Expand capacity consistent with the state’s strategic industries
- Increase and retool workforce education programs, especially for anchor occupations, high demand occupations and strategic industries. More high demand FTEs, more workforce development resources
- Develop new mechanisms for business and industry partnerships, expand customized training
- Use Centers of Excellence to strengthen programs, share best practices, and develop transitions and pathways for working people.
Increase participation in and contribution to state and local economic development strategies, focused on providing skilled and knowledge workers for the economy
- Leverage resources and coordinate initiatives with local and regional economic development efforts
- Leverage resources and coordinate initiatives with state level economic development plans
Serve more adults
- Identify and mitigate access barriers for adults, especially for underserved populations such as people of color, people with disabilities, children leaving foster care, low wage workers and other working adults.
Offer educational building blocks with multiple entry, re-entry and exit points
- All courses lead to certificates and degrees, associate degrees lead to bachelor’s degrees, including Tech Prep-like pathways into our programs and more applied bachelor’s degrees.
- Expand integrated instruction models. Increase I-BEST and develop more models for integrating basic and professional/technical skills. Expand models that integrate college level academic and professional/technical education.
- Develop system for prior learning credit for competencies, knowledge and skills gained from professional development and continuing education courses.
Enhance student success
- Develop retention and transition strategies aimed at targeted groups of students, including working adults, low-income adults, first generation college students, people without high school diplomas, and adults with limited English fluency.
- Integrate instruction and student services efforts that increase flexibility for students to customize their education.
- Make courses, programs and services more accessible for working people. Distance learning, evening/weekend classes, on-site business and industry classes, and new funds for Opportunity Grants and customized training provide venues to try new approaches.
For more information, contact Jim Crabbe.