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Higher Ed for Hire: Providing Fuel for High-demand, High-skilled Jobs

Long-term university-industry partnerships, agile community college curriculums and creative government funding are providing the “secret sauce” for workforce development and a supportive pipeline for future regional industrial growth.

Workforce Q4 2016
At Emerson’s Helix Innovation Center on the University of Dayton, Ohio’s campus, company engineers can work alongside students and faculty.
At Emerson’s Helix Innovation Center on the University of Dayton, Ohio’s campus, company engineers can work alongside students and faculty.
Academic achievement and economic growth have an interdependence woven throughout the growth of American industrialized history. A look back in time tells a predictive tale: the great problem-solving minds of today build the industries and products that fuel the jobs and prosperity of the future.

Knowing this historical economic value, there can be profound opportunity in connecting the creators of theory and enlightenment with the frontrunners of the products and services that solve challenges of society. Too often, the structure of education and corporate pressures for profits can lend to silos on a perceived definition of success. It is the disruptive journey, a cross-section between knowledge and application, where the ingredients of progress are born.

A.N. Whitehead shares the purpose of higher education in his 1929, The Aims of Education and Other Essays: “The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively…a fact is no longer a bare fact: it is invested with all its possibilities. It is no longer a burden on the memory: It is energizing as the poet of our dreams and as the architect of our purposes.”

University Collaboration Maximizes R&D Potential
At all levels of higher education, success can be found in this cross section of academia and industry. University-level collaborations leverage robust academic research capabilities and mitigate expenses on what are traditionally large corporate budget line items. Benefits can also be gained from the university viewpoint, with the ability to bring corporate perspective on faculty and student research and provide commercialization capabilities outside of the scope and mission of the university.

Earlier this year in Dayton, Ohio, Emerson celebrated the grand opening of the Helix Innovation Center located on the campus of the University of Dayton. Emerson invested $35 million to build full-scale, simulated environments where Emerson engineers will be working alongside University of Dayton students, faculty, and researchers. The goal of the partnership is to utilize the capacity and capabilities of a large company with the infusion of an entrepreneurial mindset to take concept to prototype within 90 days. South Carolina’s Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) offers the nation’s only graduate department in automotive engineering and has developed research partnerships with 32 corporations including BMW, Chrysler, GM, Honda, and Toyota.

“There are some big things happening in our industry right now and we are playing a lead role in many of them — initiatives like the connected home, the industrial Internet of Things, intelligent stores, new system architectures that can work with natural refrigerants, and ultra-efficient air conditioning systems,” said Bob Sharp, executive vice president of Emerson. “To stay on the forefront, our approach is to look at the entire environment our customers operate in, and this is why we have invested to create this facility.”

The connection between Emerson and Dayton University began through a relationship with the Copeland Corporation, now a business of Emerson, to develop a scholarship program to support minority engineering students. A corporate grant from Emerson in the mid 1990s established the Design and Manufacturing clinic, a precursor to the Innovation Center.

“With Emerson, we have a link directly to industry and an opportunity very few universities have,” noted Dayton University President Daniel J. Curran. “This is a place where our students, faculty, and researchers will interact with our partner Emerson in a new kind of collaboration.”

Long-term university-industry partnerships are generating huge rewards. South Carolina’s Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) has raised over $250 million in public and private investment over the last 10 years to build a state-of-the-art campus on more than 250 acres. CU-ICAR offers the nation’s only graduate department in automotive engineering and has developed research partnerships with 32 corporations including BMW, Chrysler, GM, Honda, and Toyota. The rising cost of education, combined with the need for a technologically advanced and skilled workforce, places community colleges in a key position for keeping the United States competitive in the global marketplace.

“CU-ICAR is a tremendous example of an educational institution conducting the type of leading-edge research that will keep America competitive in the 21st Century and also working directly with industry to train workers for in-demand, high-skilled jobs,” explained U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

In a late 2015 Clemson University also announced it was expanding the scope of research partnerships to collaborate with the insurance sector to establish a risk engineering and analytics center on the CU-ICAR campus. American International Group, Inc. (AIG) provided an initial $4 million to establish the facility and create a professorship in the field. John Doyle, CEO of Commercial Insurance for AIG, said, “It’s a critical part of AIG’s strategy to serve as a valued advisor to clients who are managing increasingly complex risks.”

Global Markets, Local Workforce
Consistently cited as a top 10 site-selection factor, skilled labor is a multifaceted benchmark of community vitality and growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects by 2024, 11 of the 15 fastest-growing occupations will require some level of postsecondary education or certification. Progressive communities with a culture and history of education-industry partnerships can demonstrate not only a strong existing labor pool for business establishment, but also a supportive workforce pipeline for future growth.

The United States is home to over 1,100 community colleges, known for flexibility and close community ties. Community colleges with an eye on economic challenges and opportunities have the agility to develop curricular pathways with degree, certificate, and credentialing programs reflective of regional industrial growth and demand. The rising cost of education, combined with the need for a technologically advanced and skilled workforce, places community colleges in a key position for keeping the United States competitive in the global marketplace. Progressive communities with a culture and history of education-industry partnerships can demonstrate not only a strong existing labor pool for business establishment, but also a supportive workforce pipeline for future growth.

Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations partnered with Tennessee’s Motlow State Community College by spending nearly $4 million renovating the North American Manufacturing Education Center (NAMEC) and Training Facility. As a part of the project, Bridgestone provided 2,200 square feet of space for Motlow College to use for developing a new A.A.S. degree in Mechatronics. Along with this investment in facilities, lab space, and curriculum, the Motlow-Bridgestone partnership expanded to also provide mentoring and internship opportunities for college students. Motlow has enriched the community even further by offering dual enrollment college credit to high school students, many of whom will earn certification in mechatronics before graduating high school.

Motlow secured additional funding for the project through a $3.3 million grant from the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TA-ACCCT) Grant, a White House initiative targeting building a 21st century workforce. In a 2013 post, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez shared, “Community colleges are incubators of innovation and opportunity. They are the secret sauce of workforce development, empowering communities, strengthening businesses, and invigorating local economies.”

A Government Call to Action
Across the nation, local and state governments are seeing the need to fund higher education initiatives as a fuel for high-demand, high-skilled jobs in sectors such as IT, healthcare, manufacturing, and energy.

Some states such as Tennessee, Oregon, Minnesota, and Rhode Island have passed legislation to offer free community college for graduating seniors. In an April 25, 2016 press release, the White House launched a $100 million competition to expand the President’s “America’s College Promise.” This initiative calls for partnership with states that waive tuition for responsible students in high-quality programs. Tennessee was the first state in the country to offer free community college and is already boasting enormous success. In its first year, 8 out of 10 seniors at public high schools applied for the program.

Free college initiatives like America’s College Promise offer great postsecondary opportunities for students graduating from high school, but may not address the needs of a large population of adult and developmental programs that can target students with socioeconomic barriers, dislocated workers, and underskilled, unemployed citizens. Some states have developed creative initiatives targeting credentialing programs as a tool to help invigorate workforce development efforts at the regional and state level.

Some states have developed creative initiatives targeting credentialing programs as a tool to help invigorate workforce development efforts at the regional and state level. In June 2016, Virginia passed the New Economy Workforce Credentials Grant program to ensure that credentialing programs are affordable and attainable for high-demand fields. Development of the initial 124 approved training programs came through colleges consulting directly with industry and researching labor market data and projections.

“This program establishes the first-in-the-nation performance-funding formula to create and sustain a supply of credentialed workers who meet the needs identified by our business leaders,” stated Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. “This...is the culmination of many months of hard work by the public- and private-sector partners, all of us working together to ensure that Virginia has a 21st century workforce with the skills and experience to compete in today’s global economy.”

The New Economy Workforce Credentials Grant covers two thirds of the cost of a training program with an industry-recognized in-demand credential approved by the Virginia Board of Workforce Development and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. The grant is performance-based with financial implications for the student and partnering college if a student doesn’t graduate successfully and earn certification.

“These workforce credentials increasingly represent the American Dream in the 21st century,” said Glenn DuBois, Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “Individuals earn these credentials in weeks and months, not semesters, and years. Those students are often quickly employed by businesses hungry for their skills, and they accomplish all of that without piling on a decade’s worth of student debt.”
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