It was obviously a bit of self-promotion, as Luzerne County Community College hosted and hosted a “Workforce Development Summit” on Wednesday morning with a panel that included graduates and the administration of the LCCC as well as politicians who have long expressed support for the school. But even so, many important points emerged that we, as a region and nation, would be wise to heed.
For starters, LCCC alumnus Brian Tylutke, who is currently pursuing an engineering degree at Penn State Hazleton, highlighted the need to get more students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields if we want to remain economically competitive. Tylutke advanced eloquently and with precision in suggesting that more students should be pushed a little out of their comfort zone and given a taste of the challenge that science lessons require, especially math.
“We have to tell them that calculus is the way to explain the physical world without using words,” he said.
U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright acknowledged that the government’s efforts had made a much-needed pivot in policy, moving from an older goal of attracting jobs to an area to a new need to train people in an area to manage new jobs. He cited the early days of the shale fracking boom in northern Pennsylvania as proof of concept, when many jobs were created but many of the best went to out-of-state transplants that came with the necessary skills.
“It was as clear as the nose on your face that the people weren’t from here and the money wasn’t staying here. We were left with only holes in the ground.
Erica Campbell, of Geisinger Health Care, warned ‘there will never be enough nurses to care for our elderly population’, and said one solution has been to make sure every worker is working at the top of his professional license. If you have a shortage of registered nurses, it’s worth making sure they’re not doing work that doesn’t require their level of licensing. Thus, Geisinger, like other providers, is expanding the use of Certified Practical Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, and all other levels of healthcare jobs available.
All of this fits into the broad reality that most panelists highlighted: We must ensure that post-secondary education and training is widely and economically available if we are to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow. As Cartwright noted, today’s biggest companies are built around technologies that didn’t exist 20 or even 10 years ago. It makes no sense to believe that the education system that worked so well 50 years ago to fuel the economy will do just as well in the future.
“If we don’t do everything to inspire young people to get into these fields, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Cartwright said, perhaps stretching a bit far to turn a single metaphor into a collective plural. .
But he is right. They are fine. And as the future economy of high tech, big data, blockchain, online everything, artificial intelligence, and virtual/augmented/mixed reality grows rapidly, community colleges and institutions similar are increasingly becoming the logical transition to further education. They can be flexible in offering college credits for high school students, fast certifications for entry-level jobs after high school, full associate degrees, lower- and mid-level professional licenses, and affordable stepping stones from two years towards licenses, masters or doctorates.
The days when a high school diploma was enough to live on are long gone. Determining how best to make education more seamless from high school to additional (and lifelong) learning is critical. Being the first to make this transition will put any county, state or nation ahead of the curve.
— Head of times