Nearly four years ago, I was preparing to defend my doctoral dissertation research called, “The Technical College’s Role in Bridging the Workforce Gap: A Multi-Case Study on Engineering Technology-Based Employers.”
At the time, I was serving as a Vice President of a technical and community college in central Ohio; overseeing workforce solutions & economic development initiatives, the enrollment management division, three regional campus locations, and community/government relations across the three primary counties we served. (Yes, I not only successfully defended and earned my doctorate throughout this onerous series of responsibilities, but I also lived to tell about it!)
Two Primary Questions:
(a) What do engineering technology based employers see as the greatest skills gaps in the current workforce?
(b) How can a technical or community college best meet the needs of engineering technology-based employers to address the current workforce gap?
One question you may ask is, “What was the SIGNIFICANCE of this research?”
First, it added to the pre-existing research on the need for and strengthening of technical education to support technical employers and advancements. Second, the demand for an engineering technology-driven workforce continued (and continues) to rise. Third, employers and technical educators are forced to explore how to create a shift in perceptions and attitudes about technical education and careers. Next, attracting and retaining skilled talent have been among the greatest challenges and limiting factors engineering technology-based employers report facing. Finally, employers, educators, and workforce practitioners would find this study timely and relevant – and quite significant.
I am certainly not naïve enough nor arrogant enough to believe my research would be that which would solve this crisis, but I do believe that through my multi-case studies, I became better informed and better prepared to at least lead an educated movement that is sure to have a positive impact.
I studied a profuse volumes of literature and reports; I interviewed dozens of engineering technology based employers; I coded copious amounts of data – all in an effort to identify and research what employers determine to be the greatest skills gaps in the current workforce, and also, how can a community’s technical college best meet their workforce needs in an attempt to address the current workforce gap.
Four prominent themes emerged.
1. THE SKILLS GAP: It is real in the minds of employers, and it could very well be the root cause of the workforce shortage.
2. RECRUITMENT & TALENT ATTRACTION: Technical & community colleges shall be recruiting and attracting more people and more learners into the engineering technologies to help bridge the workforce gap.
3. CURRENT CURRICULUM & TRAINING MODELS: Two-year institutions should be designing educational curriculum and training models specifically to meet employer needs.
4. ECOSYSTEM-BUILDING: Community & technical colleges must take the lead in building stronger network and relationships between industry and education; placing educational and training providers within the nucleus of workforce and economic development ecosystems.
Each of those themes additionally had emerging sub-themes. To summarize, in unpacking the skills gap, it was discovered that the skills employers have been seeking in their incumbent workforce and future workforce (e.g., new hires and applicants) surfaced as a combination of soft skills and technical skills. Also, when it comes to recruiting and attracting more people, more learners, more participants and students into the engineering technologies, community and technical colleges could be doing a more effective job of identifying specific populations and also leveraging state and federal resources to secure funding – prioritizing for brand messaging.
Relative to rolling out curriculum and designing employer-driven training and education models, judgements clearly emerged that institutions of higher education should be more focused and concentrated on short-term options, industry recognized credentials, and accelerated certifications. (Note: This opinion held true for both the traditionally enrolled students, as well as for the incumbent worker – the person currently in a job who may require upskilling for advancement or retooling to keep up with technologies. The latter would benefit from affordable, accessible, tailored programming delivered through a more flexible curriculum and schedule.)
Research also pointed to an expectation of community and technical colleges as being trailblazers who should be leading efforts to build stronger networks and relationships between industry and education; to be proactively and assertively creating experiences that introduce the engineering technology career pathways and educational opportunities to a younger generation (those in our K-12 schools), as well as those who are underemployed or unemployed and seeking an opportunity for growth. Finally, it is incumbent upon the community and technical colleges to steer communication strategies to deepen and broaden relations and opportunities throughout the communities and economies served.
Source: Bridging the Workforce Gap