Viewpoint: Celebrate education that leads to workforce development
By Larry Lundblad, Minnesota State College Southeast Interim President
February is Career and Technical Education Month. Career and technical education provides student learners of all ages the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to be successful on the job and in their careers.
At Minnesota State College Southeast, CTE is one of our top priorities, and we are proud of the contributions our CTE instructors and high school partners are making to improve the lives of our students and the economy of our region.
Coupled with the growing number of baby boomer retirements, the current economic expansion is creating an unprecedented number of job openings that will continue well into the future. Many of these jobs require education beyond high school.
Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, estimates that two-thirds of today's jobs require certificates, certifications, licenses, associate's degrees, or some college coursework — and this need will increase. Career and technical education provides the pathway for individuals to earn these credentials.
CTE prepares individuals for high-skilled jobs in transportation, financial services, information technology, public safety, green energy, and advanced manufacturing. There is a growing need for workers in the construction trades, CNC machine tool, and welding. The need for skilled employees in health occupations continues to expand as well.
Unfortunately, because of the changing nature of work, the downside is that individuals who only have a high school diploma or lower level of education will be increasingly disadvantaged as lower skill work disappears due to automation, globalization, and upskilling.
The good news is that with career and technical education credentials, it is possible for experienced workers with a strong work ethic to earn six-figure incomes. Others find that with a skill set that is in demand, the opportunity to be an entrepreneur and to go into business is an exciting alternative.
Examples of rapidly changing world of work are numerous. Today's employees are expected to solve problems, think creatively, and actively engage in work design. In many manufacturing settings, workers learn and apply the principles of learn manufacturing. Auto body, diesel, and automotive technicians use data to diagnose and solve problems. Heavy equipment operators, ag-technicians, and truck drivers use GPS. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and robots is just beginning to make an impact.
Preparation for these occupations can begin at the high school level. MSC Southeast works closely with our high school partners throughout the region to develop programs that allow students to explore options to pursue their interests and establish career goals. Many high school programs are structured so students can start taking college courses as juniors and seniors.
At the post-secondary setting, learners are taught by expert faculty who are skilled in their fields. Advisory committees provide vital support in the developing curriculum and supporting CTE programs in many ways. Hands-on training often includes internships, apprenticeships, and clinical opportunities in the workplace. These on-site experiences can lead directly to employment.
We are also providing opportunities for students to achieve their educational goals and get into the workplace more quickly. Credit for prior learning and military experience reduces the costs and time needed to complete the credential or degree. Increasingly, programs are available online, allowing students to learn when it is convenient for them. We are also developing accelerated programs that reduce expenses and allow students to start earning sooner.
Minnesota State College Southeast is proud of our career and technical education instructors and our high school CTE partner schools and instructors. Together, with vital business and industry support, they are doing an outstanding job of connecting students with careers in the region and making a valuable contribution to the economic vitality of southeastern Minnesota.