Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the annual retreat for the Board of Advisors for the Universities at Shady Grove. The theme for this year’s retreat was “Connecting our 21st century education to our 21st century workforce needs.” I am proud to serve on this board for several reasons, but foremost is because of the phenomenal intellectual stimulation it provides in discussing relevant postsecondary issues affecting the residents of Montgomery County.
One such relevant discussion came after a presentation by George Mason University economist Stephen S. Fuller. Dr. Fuller is the director of the Center for Regional Analysis at the School of Public Policy, and he is an expert on employment trends within the Washington metropolitan region. He offered a provocative analysis of the workforce needs for our area over the next 10 years, and I have been left contemplating the implications of the last part of his presentation, which focused on the future job openings in our region. Of particular interest to me was the startling projection that suggested that the educational level needed for the largest number of new jobs—not replacements but new workers—will be in two specific categories: (1) high school or less with on-the-job training (OJT), and (2) bachelor’s degree. Moreover, projected occupations needing high school or less with OJT, post secondary awards (i.e. certificates), or associate’s degrees will more than double compared to the number of occupations that will require a bachelor’s degree or more.
What does this mean? Many of us have articulated for some time that community colleges are the key to the promise of the new economy. We are a central—an essential—component to our nation’s economic recovery, and the data for Montgomery County suggests that we must be actively engaged in any plan for economic and workforce development in our region. Not simply because we provide access to higher education for tens of thousands Montgomery County residents, but because we provide the relevant education for the jobs of the future—careers that, in some cases, may not even exist yet. These are new workers that only we can provide because of our agility and flexibility in providing timely, relevant, industry-driven curriculum for the new economy.
As the College prepares to craft a vision statement and revise our mission statement next semester, I challenge us to be bold in articulating our role in the new economy. I remain convinced that we will be teaching ourselves out of this recession, and Montgomery College is uniquely poised to do just that.