Answering Our Call to Service: Educating the Public Sector

Anyone who has followed my columns in the Huffington Post knows I am a vocal proponent for establishing a three-way partnership between higher education, industry and community. My advocacy, up to now, has focused on providing a vehicle for business to have a greater voice in driving college course offerings and degree programs in order to arm a workforce with the skills required by the employers.

Often, I have discussed the role of government in providing incentives and programs to foster these relationships, and the natural outcome of the employer and worker reaping the greatest benefit. Today, I am writing about the responsibility higher education has toward our government, and ultimately the nation.

Industry's aspirations of a global marketplace have become a reality, with American businesses competing with companies in Shanghai or Mumbai - not only for customers, but also for skilled labor. As a result, communities and workers realize that employers have far more options to more effectively compete, from locating a factory offshore to hiring from a pool of candidates half a world away.

We are beginning to move beyond the concept that an education is merely a key to an individual's or family's prosperity, and see that it is central to creating stronger communities and protecting our national interests. This symbiotic relationship between higher education and workers, employers, communities and government is at the heart of a prosperous and happy nation. As we see more countries with emerging economies enter the playing field, it is clear that a strong government, staffed with knowledgeable and skilled workers, is a critical factor in determining the success of this partnership and one in which we all have a vested interest. Without strong leadership, America cannot effectively compete in the world economy.

Let me introduce a startling statistic that has the potential to negatively impact every business, worker and community in the U. S., and one which higher education must address if we are to preserve our position as a leader in the global marketplace: Four in 10 Federal employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years. These jobs won't simply disappear, they will need to be filled by candidates who have the requisite knowledge and capabilities to lead our nation, ensure our success in an increasingly competitive business environment and, more importantly, protect our national interests. Also, these workers will have to be hired from the same pool of candidates that the private sector draws their talent, creating greater competition for those with the most in-demand skills.

Higher education can no longer sit passively on the sidelines or wait to address issues such as these when they become evident. Colleges and universities must be proactive in anticipating the needs of the public sector as well as business, and initiate the dialog about what the future holds for - and needs from - the American worker. It has become clear that identifying and meeting educational needs of the Federal Government is as important as the needs of industry, if we wish to remain competitive as a nation.

What makes public service unique is that the mission is not about the bottom line, but about creating a better world, one where individuals and businesses can flourish. The knowledge required to bring that about are not only job-specific skills, but those which are required across many disciplines and industries.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has identified 32 high-risk areas in the Government operations workforce going forward. The future success of Federal missions is directly tied to its workforce's capabilities, relevant knowledge and skills. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has been intentional about forming alliances with Higher Ed partners with an emphasis on the needs of adult learners. With educational programs from cyber security and digital forensics to healthcare management and acquisition, Champlain College is the second partner school entering an alliance with the Federal Government focused on providing solutions essential for solving both today's and tomorrow's national challenges.

While Champlain College is clearly focused on addressing the requirements of the future Federal workforce, we need more schools to follow this example if the United States is going to be capable of meeting the needs of the global economy. It should be evident to everyone in higher education that our colleges and universities must be the catalyst for creating a Federal workforce with the knowledge and skills it needs to compete in a marketplace which now transcends political ideologies and national borders. We are educating a generation of students and older workers not only for employment in the private sector, but also as leaders in the public sector.

We need to look beyond our narrow view of education as learning institutions serving the needs of the traditional student and reframe our mission as ongoing partners in the complex relationship with older workers, business, communities and the Federal Government. Higher education needs to be the proactive leader in establishing this dialog by bringing all participants to the table and understanding that it is shaping the future of the nation.