Powering The 21st Century Economy

Community colleges are central to addressing the burgeoning skills gap, but we can't do it alone.
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The need for well trained and qualified employees to power our 21st-century economy is one of the most pressing challenges facing our nation as we emerge from the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Community colleges are central to addressing this burgeoning skills gap, but we can't do it alone.

The problem is driven by several converging factors. First, the aging U.S. workforce: It is estimated that 40 percent of our nation's workers will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Secondly, the increasing technological complexity of today's economy, as evidenced by 3 million unfilled skilled jobs. Thirdly, the global nature of today's economy is driving up the demand for highly skilled employees. Fourthly, today's youth are either dropping out of school, or graduating less prepared in reading, writing and mathematics.

Mark Lautman, in his book, When the Boomers Bail: How Demographics Will Sort Communities into Winners and Losers, sums up the problem this way: "What really worries me is what I don't see: young people. That is, enough young people with the education, skills and experience to replace the 78 million Boomers [...] It's a problem that threatens the future of every community in the U.S. and most of the industrialized world."

As a founding member and current chair of the National Coalition of Certification Centers, or NC3, I am pleased to say that there is a growing and committed group of business and industry, education and government partners engaged in the search for meaningful solutions. Many of us got together recently at the ninth NC3 "train-the-trainer" event, the most successful Skills Instructor training event in the nation, at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wis., and there was no shortage of creative ideas.

Our partnership group includes global industry sponsors Snap-on and Trane; 24 premier schools from the California, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Texas, Alabama, Oregon, North Dakota, Washington, Virginia, Kansas, Arizona, and Puerto Rico; and six organizational partners, ranging from the Federal Aviation Administration, the American Association of Community Colleges, WDI, the Association for Career and Technical Education, the Manufacturing Institute and the Puget Sound Auto Dealers Association. All are committed to closing the educational and skills gap.

NC3 doesn't get a lot of media attention but it should. The organization emphasizes learning that works to increase the competencies of the American workforce in three key sectors of the economy: transportation, energy and aviation. We have created and implemented a turn-key certification process, driven by industry-recognized certifications that are stackable, portable and third-party validated. Our system involves a network of highly trained and skilled professionals ranging from executives to instructors. To date, we have trained and certified more than 10,000 instructors and students across the nation.

The success of our organization has been recognized internationally. The NC3 certification process is currently being deployed in Morocco. We are in discussions with governments and schools in China, India, and across the Middle East and North Africa. All in all, it's a pretty impressive record, especially as we have only been in existence for a few years.

NC3 is doing its part to prepare workers for the jobs of the future. We know that this must truly be a team effort and that the best way to achieve our shared goals is by leveraging our expertise through strategic partnerships. As the famous retailer James Cash Penney put it, "Growth is never by mere chance. It is the result of forces working together."

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