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This school gets it – again August 19, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Education, Technology, Workforce.
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Steven Infanti, Communications Director at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology offers a smart op-ed regarding the role of education (and, presumably, workforce) in economic development. (You may recall, I profiled this brand new higher education institution in an earlier Convergence entry.) This is a great piece, one that I don’t want to lose into the Internet ether, so I’ll reprint it in its entirety:

Susan Gvozdas’ article (“High-tech workers gain an edge,” July 30) is further evidence that our state’s competitiveness is linked firmly to our ability to develop and educate the most competent and adaptable workforce.

Employers in the region are participants in a global economy that values college graduates that bring a combination of specialized technical aptitudes, adaptability, and business skills to the workforce. As the only four-year comprehensive university in the city focused on the production of technology-educated graduates, we see first-hand the advantage those students receive by majoring in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics — known as the STEM disciplines — when they begin their careers.

There’s a clear link between education and economic development. By offering innovative science and technology degree programs developed with a changing business world in mind so students can start careers before they graduate, future graduates can move into “gold collar” careers.

Doing so, however, requires a learning environment that combines technology with communication, teamwork and practical application. That’s why members of regional industry are playing a role by developing our course curriculum and participating as corporate faculty and program advisory team members. In addition, we link every student with a business mentor upon enrollment and have a mandatory multi-year internship program.

In the near future, Harrisburg University’s SciTech Innovation Center will foster regional entrepreneurial ventures, as well as attract new technology companies to the region.

This piece makes so much sense on so many levels. I will not be surprised by the success of Harrisburg University, its SciTech Center nor its graduates. If they are practicing what they preach, they are building an impressive foundation for the future. There’s a lot to admire at this institution, and probably a lot to emulate.

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1. Steve in PA - September 3, 2008

COMMENTARY: Higher Education Should Link Workforce Development to Economic Needs

By Bilita Mattes, D.Ed.

The issue of the talent gap and tighter labor markets is already upon us in some sectors, but if you ask the faculty in most universities if their primary purpose is to create work-ready individuals, the answer would still most likely be “no.”

Instead, for most universities, workforce development activities have been an add-on necessitated by external drivers as well as the potential of new enrollments and revenues in an environment of ever-tightening budget allocations.

The nature of work is changing and preparation to be a part of, and remain a part of, the workforce in this environment is also changing. More job opportunities require post-secondary education and degrees (and beyond) in the future, and college and lifelong learning do, and will, contribute to increased lifetime earnings.

Jobs in the nonmanufacturing sectors and professional specialties are increasing. Additionally, for many of us, what we do for work, and how we do it, connects us or our organization to interdependent, global networks, and requires the integration of science and technology into our professional lives.

This requires a workforce that knows how to operate in a globalized market place, to think critically, make informed decisions in a highly complex environment; and we will have to keep pace with information and the technological changes and opportunities that are available to us.

The nation’s economic competitiveness in the future is dependent upon the educational readiness of our workforce so it is a mistake to think of workforce development and higher education separately. Traditional higher education must have an intentional focus on, and commitment to, regional workforce development needs.

Some will argue that this is the realm of community colleges. This puts the burden of focus for workforce development in today’s environment on one level of post-secondary education. Universities must define workforce development that is connected to economic development priorities as an intricate part of their mission and focus.

This requires that universities go beyond doing research, preparing academics, and producing graduates, which are well established contributions of universities to workforce development. For example, Central Pennsylvania’s business leaders, elected-officials and other organizations recognized the changing nature of our workforce — and that new approaches were needed in workforce development to grow our knowledge-based economy.

A solution was the creation of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. The University’s mission includes a dedication to meet the needs of the region’s youth, workforce, and businesses, and to expand, attract, and create economic opportunities in the region. We believe that the realities over the next decade require stronger and real connections between all levels of education. We also believe that higher education has a role and responsibility as a part of the workforce development process.

We designed and are implementing a new educational model and approach that is interdisciplinary, and that connects theory and practice. We’re offering an education that is more experiential and applied in order to ensure a fluid transition back and forth between school and work. Members of regional industry play a role by working with us to develop our courses and curriculum and participating as corporate faculty and program advisory team members.

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology provides services that encourage and enable a diversity of student learners to participate fully in continuous education as well as educational pathways and opportunities that span a lifetime. We are working to make these opportunities individualized to each student, and to not waste resources and time for students and their employers.

Our faculty and staff consciously and purposefully grapple with how to expand our own unique model in higher education that reframes workforce development in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines as elemental to how we interact with students wanting to learn and communities wanting to grow and prosper.

Other universities can replicate what we have done, but it is evident that, as of today, many universities are not structured to respond in such a strategically coordinated and universal way. Our model offers insights for how other institutions can partner to better serves regional workforce development needs.

* * *

Bilita Mattes, D.Ed. is Associate Provost of Strategic Markets at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology where she is responsible for non-traditional credit offerings, non-credit continuing professional education, contracted training, training grants and distance learning. Dr. Mattes has worked in continuing higher education and outreach for 15 years; prior to joining higher education, her professional background was in training and development within business and industry.


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