Tuesday, July 06, 2010

 

Preparing for Dying Industries

Should a community college train people for the industries that are currently there, or for the industries that seem likely to be there in the near future?

I’ve been chewing on this one in light of some recent proposals floating around to get students prepared to certain kinds of manufacturing firms that, in my humble estimation, may not be much longer for this continent. (To be fair, a similar objection could be lodged at certain kinds of journalism programs, though I suspect that journalism will morph rather than die.)

I can imagine arguments on both sides, and I’ll admit being half-convinced by each.

On one side is the perfectly valid argument that students need jobs now, not years from now, and there’s an inherent difficulty (if not arrogance) in trying to read the future. While some broad, system-level trends may be legible, they don’t necessarily tell you what will happen in any given local market, or with any given company. Even if, say, manufacturing is on the decline nationally, that doesn’t mean that every single manufacturing company will either go under or go overseas. And if a few of the survivors are local, why the hell not prepare students for them?

There’s some truth to that. Even if the job only lasts a few years, that’s still a few years of gainful employment that might not have occurred otherwise. And who’s to say that one opportunity won’t lead to another?

But then there’s bitter experience. Having gone to grad school in an evergreen discipline in the 90’s, I saw and experienced firsthand the frustration of doing everything right only to emerge with a credential nobody wants. Having grown up in a city that’s still paying the price for putting so many eggs in the basket of a single industry, only to wind up with egg on its face, I’m a little nervous about pretending not to notice industrial decline. As late as the 90’s, the American car industry was doing great, riding the wave of SUV’s (and the undercurrent of cheap gas) as far as it could go. We know how that turned out, and it’s not like nobody saw it coming.

It’s one thing to be blindsided by change; it’s quite another to shut your eyes to it and pretend it’s not there.

Even the “buying time” scenario -- a few years of gainful employment will give you time to adjust to the next big thing -- seems more optimistic than history suggests is warranted. What seems to happen instead is that as the immediate crisis recedes, people turn their attention elsewhere and just assume that everything is back to normal.

I don’t want to contribute to a false sense of security, but I don’t want to sacrifice other people’s real opportunities to my own intuitions, either.

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? Should cc’s spend resources on training people to work for dying industries?

Comments:
What is being considered to prepare people for manufacturing jobs? Aren't most of them either unskilled or semi-skilled, which mean you learn them on the job or at most in a training program lasting a few weeks?

Either way, I doubt traditional educational institutions have much to contribute, except in the case of students so far behind the curve that they need help with straightforward literacy and numeracy.
 
hmmm? train or educate? Which is it that the CC is trying to do?

If it is trying to educate then wouldn't that include setting the learners up for change down the road?

If it is trying to train then how does one justify charging tuition and calling it a college degree?
 
For a community college that has lost all mfg jobs in the area preparing students for future industry is the only answer. Outside of small business owners, the only businesses thinking of hiring in our area are government, public schools and Wal Mart. None of these require a two year degree (either 4 or 0).
 
If colleges stop teaching something because they think the industry's going under, won't that in itself eventually cause the industry to go under? I guess you'd always get to say "see, we were right". :/
 
I'm with Charles on this one. Shouldn't we educate instead of train? We at 4-yr institutions hear again and again that businesses want critical thinkers; they can teach new employees everything they need to know about widgets, but they can't teach analysis. That's our job.

I understand that the position of a cc is a bit different, and that a cc is a great place to learn car repair, for example, but wouldn't that skill carry over if the student also learned good problem-solving skills? Then she'd be able to learn to fix nearly anything, right?

Of course, I'm just guessing as I can fix exactly nothing, which is perhaps why I became an academic.
 
Having gone to grad school in an evergreen discipline in the 90’s, I saw and experienced firsthand the frustration of doing everything right only to emerge with a credential nobody wants.

Really?

1) Are you saying that your college doesn't require a PhD to be an academic Dean? Surprising. IME, most colleges prefer the education that goes with earning an advanced degree over someone who was merely trained to be a Dean via an EdD in higher ed admin.

2) I thought you said you had been employed as a professor in your PhD subject area.

3) I find it amazing that you were told, and believed, that every person getting a PhD in your subject area at that particular school would get a tenured faculty position with a 1-1 load at a research university. Didn't you look around and notice that they graduated more people with the PhD than they hired into t-t jobs? Or that faculty at top universities rarely follow a 25- or 30-and-out career path?

Going after administrative jobs, where turnover is high and retirement appears to come earlier, was a good career choice on your part. Besides, your background seems ideal for the applied hermeneutics of deconstructing Accountability measures.
 
It is best to inform students in as unbiased as possible Of thier options and reality.


I was once told, there is no point in going to college if you do not persue a degree that will pay off in the long run. ( as Charles said, most jobs will require either 4+ yrs or No Schooling beyond High School).

This is something ppl only know if they take Basic Macro/Micro econ classes and some personal finance.

I understand CommColl are faceing fierce competition from Online For profit school that focus on "jobs of the future". It's tough out there...
 
"Picking winners" is a fool's game; looing to the past ain't much better.

This is why I dislike the "training model" of education, although I recognize its appeal--"prepare people to be able to get jobs!"

This is why I remain a strong supporter of general education, focused on learning, on learning how to learn, and on transferable skills (the good old 3 R's; critical thinking; etc.).

ANYTHING you TRAIN people for now has a non-zero probability of going away, and going away sooner than you expect.
 
When incarceration became the norm for dealing out justice in the 1840's in England, prisoners were often trained as handloom weavers.

Umfortunately, handloom weavers no longer could make a living (see 'Luddites'), but prison architecture and penological theory did not allow for people to train for the textile-factory jobs that actually did exist.
 
What is being considered to prepare people for manufacturing jobs? Aren't most of them either unskilled or semi-skilled, which mean you learn them on the job or at most in a training program lasting a few weeks?

Some manufacturing jobs are like this, but there are others that require a great deal of training in tool and die, or others (like lens and mirror production) that take a lot more than a few weeks of on-the-job training.

And "We can teach them what they need to know, you just give 'em analysis skills?" Ha. My daughter has a pure platinum magna cum laude liberal arts degree from a very prestigious SLAC. "But what can you DO?" Well, she can analyze, research, write, organize, synthesize... And the market for all those things is zero. She's working at a book store, the last refuge of the liberal arts grad, and is now, after 4 years, on the management ladder. If the company survives, she might make a career out of this. But it has been a very penurious four years getting to this point.
 
Maybe students who are getting vocational training ought to have "general education" requirements just as students being trained in an academic discipline do, and maybe those gen-ed courses, rather than referring back to a historically accepted canon, ought to look forward to what seem likely to be the opportunities of the future.
 
I think that there is a meaningful difference between 2 years of training for a job that might pay off and 11 years of training for a job that might pay off.
 
ANYTHING you TRAIN people for now has a non-zero probability of going away Except things like nursing, plumbing, electrician, HVAC, auto mechanic - I could go on but I think you get the point. There are some jobs that we will always need people for because they are point of service skills that require licensing or certification and are not automatable. How many people are needed is another issue - but the basic need is there and will persist over time (and is even somewhat predictable based on demographics and the economy).

This sounds like the kind of thing that would make a good partnership between the local workforce investment board, the college, and the local industry leaders. I would not invest a lot of time, space or faculty hire lines creating a lasting program because your gut is telling you this is a temporary need. Rather, I would create something that couples to an existing program and gives the students both the specific skills the industry claims to need and also other skills that can translate into another more general but related job. The WIB won't like prolonging the training but if you call the "other skills" basic skills training you might be able to get away with this. You can tell industry you are creating a value added degree that will increase the critical thinking skills and initiative of graduates and if you get them extended practical training (EPT) $$ they should be thrilled. There is a ton of unused EPT money in my area so this is a reasonable way to go for us and worth looking into for you.

If you can create the degree in such a way that it provides the first year or two of college level courses, that would be even better - but I know for many of these types of jobs that would be prohibitive in terms of time and the skill level of the folks who are likely to enroll.

On a more general note, this reminds me of the incubator labs some colleges have for partnering with industry. Could you create a space where training could be done that would be industry funded but where the college would maintain the space, give units, help grow and form programs based on your expertise in education? Sounds like a grant fundable thing to me....
 
From my experience in job interviews and talking to people who are 2-5 years (or more) into their careers, it seems like college/university/grad school only really matters in landing one's first job or two.

After that, one's success or lack thereof in the work place far far outweigh formal education. If colleges & universities could somehow help students get those first 1-2 years of full time work experience, I think their job is done.

I do believe at some point it is up to the individual to seek out and invest in the education they need in an ongoing basis.
 
"And "We can teach them what they need to know, you just give 'em analysis skills?" Ha. My daughter has a pure platinum magna cum laude liberal arts degree from a very prestigious SLAC. "But what can you DO?" Well, she can analyze, research, write, organize, synthesize... And the market for all those things is zero. She's working at a book store, the last refuge of the liberal arts grad, and is now, after 4 years, on the management ladder. If the company survives, she might make a career out of this. But it has been a very penurious four years getting to this point."

This is spot on the money. Liberal arts graduates can move into business roles but they generally suffer a disadvantage against business/accounting majors who not only have more specific relevant skills but often have the advantage of internships/placements/co-ops in the workplace prior to graduation.
 
Scott Adams has a term for Liberal arts graduates that move into management. That is "Pointy Haired Boss", aka idiot. It is the delusion that you do not need to know the subject matter to manage that has wrecked western industry.

"she can analyze, research, write, organize, synthesize..", well you learn that in any engineering course, but you also learn useful subject matter.
 
Charles hit the nail on the head. In my town, we have an excellent votech nearby. If I want to find a job next year in a particular field, I'll go to votech. If I'm planning long-term, I'll go to college.

The question is: should a college/university offer a major that will be of no financial benefit to a student? Our state U doesn't offer a degree in cloud-watching or hole-digging. But if a degree in hole-digging can get you the same job as a degree in history or journalism, then why not?

And FatBigot is correct. Our managers here all have engineering degrees. Most highly successful companies hire a lot of engineers, and attempt to recognize those engineers who also have good project management and people skills. Those engineers get elevated into managerial roles (a la Google, Microsoft, IBM, Wal-Mart...). Bring in a Liberal Arts grad to run a project or a dept of engineers and you'll have a mutiny on your hands. You're most valued and most experienced will flee, and then you'll have a sinking ship.

Lib Art grads are perfect for colleges/universities (for several reasons), but those jobs are 1000:1 in terms of grads to positions, and you'll have engineers & business people applying too.
 
I say to Vicki, your daughter is very lucky she was looking for a job 4 years ago, when unemployment was so much lower. There are not nearly as many jobs available today, almost none in the private sector.

That won't change anytime soon, given the current state of the government.
 
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