Can Innovative Partnerships Close America's Skills Gap?

September 19, 2013

The Huffington Post

This summer, Wheelock College hosted a planning workshop for a first-of-its-kind partnership that unites Massachusetts students with high-demand fields in the 21st century global economy. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston initiated the partnership between Roxbury Community College and Madison Park Vocational Technical High School--the Roxbury Massachusetts Advanced Polytech Pathway or RoxMAPP. Creating vital avenues for students to flourish in burgeoning fields including health care, information technology and the life sciences and beyond is the aim of the program. Students at Madison Park will have the opportunity to enroll directly in Roxbury Community College after graduation; thus, equipping them with the tools, direction and connections with business leaders and the greater Boston community. I was greatly inspired by the time, energy and vision of leaders and educators during this day of training. Positioned to help close our skills gap, this partnership aligns with the State's job growth strategy and has the potential to serve as a model for other vocational schools and community colleges across the state and possibly the country.

Why is this so critical? Because half of today's jobs didn't exist 25 years ago. The skills available in the current workforce and those needed for the tech-based economy have created a significant gap in skills. Opportunity is available yet so many people are looking for jobs--almost 12 million Americans are unemployed; however, 3.6 million jobs are unfilled. Many of these openings are "middle skills" positions--jobs that require more advanced training than a high school diploma but may not need a four-year degree and are in the fields related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). We must do more to inspire and educate future generations to prepare students for the jobs of the future. One of the methods is the pioneering of a greater variety of partnerships with institutions of higher education.

Creating pathways for college and career readiness has proven to be an essential element in the foundational stages of student success. At Wheelock College, we are working to address the skills gap with the children and families of Boston's Mattapan neighborhood through a new initiative, dubbed the "Center for Readiness." The program consists of a series of age-based college and career readiness programs and services for youth in grades 4-12 to improve the needed support for low-income, first generation and immigrant populations of the Mattapan community and its surroundings. In addition to the youth programs, a number of support programs will also be developed for parents, families, and other adults. The College plays a collaborative leadership, advocacy and facilitative role with partner agencies and organizations in an effort to create a sustainable, place-based, capacity-building model at the Mattahunt Wheelock Partnership Community Center (MWPCC) focused on children, youth and families. In just two years, the MWPCC re-opened its doors under Wheelock's oversight and now serves nearly 200 families a day. The Center's pool and computer room have become hubs of activity for the community. Approximately $300,000 in funding has been brought to the Center through outside donors and 5,000 hours have been volunteered to the Center through 500 volunteer events organized by Community Center staff. In addition, we have facilitated over 20 unique community partnerships and collaborations while increasing the capacity of existing partners. For example, since becoming a partner two years ago, the Boys and Girls Club was able to double its service population, delivering programs to 100 students.

Another approach is being pursued by New York City--partnerships with private industry. Recently officials from IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., and SAP joined education officials to create three new early-college high schools. Students will graduate with a high school diploma and a City University of New York associate degree in six years. By navigating students toward specific jobs in high-demand fields, these schools provide students with a distinct path into the workforce after graduation. The model for these schools is Brooklyn's highly publicized Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-Tech partnership with IBM and the City University of New York. In addition to the traditional core subjects, students receive an education in computer science and complete two years of college work. Upon graduation, they are first in line for a job with IBM. Because early college high schools are funded by their school districts, as traditional public high schools, the cost savings to students can be significant. The competition for spots in these schools is fierce and may make or break a student's dream of higher education and attaining an in-demand job.

Today's educational system was created to supply jobs for an economy based on manufacturing--an outdated model. In today's 21st century technology focused economy, we need to take more steps towards modernizing education. I believe there isn't one right recipe--constant innovation, tough work, and collaboration from a variety of stakeholders such as educators, parents, highly committed students, legislators, community partners, the private sectors and beyond are needed to move on the path to improvement. Wheelock is pleased to be the host for two such partnerships--the Mattahunt Wheelock Partnership and RoxMAPP-- and will be closely following the outcomes, challenges and learnings that result.

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