By Jane Stancill – firstname.lastname@example.org
CHAPEL HILL — A UNC system strategy group is struggling with the imprecise task of figuring out how many more college graduates the state needs to meet the workforce needs of tomorrow.
But more important than the number of new degree holders may be the quality of the education they receive, experts told the UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions.
National and state surveys of employers show that they want workers who are good communicators, effective collaborators and creative problem solvers. Employers generally say they can train employees to do the tasks they need; what they want are people who can learn and adapt easily.
“It’s all about lifelong learning,” said Keith Crisco, state commerce secretary, who serves on the panel.
Madhu Beriwal, president and CEO of a IEM, a firm specializing in emergency management and homeland security, moved her company to North Carolina in 2009, she said, because she saw that education, business and government seemed to collaborate well here.
She said her company screens a potential worker based on the hard skills outlined on the résumé, but the true test is the candidate’s soft skills.
“It really comes down to the ability to think, the ability to form solutions, the ability to work,” she said.
Written and oral communication skills are key, she added. “If they have not learned to write in 16 years of instruction, we can’t teach them that,” Beriwal said. “We give them a writing test. If they fail, that’s it. We’re done.”
Dan Gitterman, a public policy professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, said a four-year college degree should be about more than imparting knowledge. Students must also learn skills, including the ability to think critically and independently write, reason and communicate clearly. They must also learn how to apply their skills to real world environments such as job internships.
So, for example, universities should place more importance on writing centers, with individual tutoring.
“If we do it for athletes, we should do it for everybody,” Gitterman said.
Also, he said, faculty get no reward for helping students gain internship experience or networking skills, so it typically doesn’t happen. Students have to seek out the campus career office, which is typically a secondary university function. “We’ve got to work on this,” Gitterman said.
The panel debated the pros and cons of the current intense focus on so-called STEM education – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Beriwal suggested adding an “S” to the acronym to represent social sciences such as psychology and sociology. Those skills are needed in today’s workforce as never before. She cited the defense industry, where the battle against terror is about winning hearts and minds as much as high-tech weaponry.
The UNC committee is studying the workforce of the future in order to come up with a five-year plan for the university system. A blueprint from the panel is due early next year.
Part of the group’s task is to come up with degree attainment goals for the state’s population. That is a tricky estimation.
In 2010, 28 percent of North Carolina residents ages 25 to 64 had four-year degrees or higher.
Projecting the minimum entry-level education for the workforce in 2020, the state actually would only need 23 percent four-year degree holders. Another projection, based on trends on education and current jobs, would suggest the state needs 32 percent of its citizens to have four-year degrees. And yet another estimate, based on competing with the top five most educated states, would require about 41 percent of North Carolina residents to have college degrees.
But such projections are iffy at best in an environment of rapidly changing technology and an uncertain economic climate.
“You want to put your supply and demand pretty much in equilibrium,” said Jack Cecil, president of Biltmore Farms and a member of the committee.
Complicating the picture is that people who move to North Carolina tend to be more highly educated. In 2008-2009, North Carolina imported more college graduates than the UNC system produced. Among those born in North Carolina, 18.5 percent had at least a four-year degree, versus almost 35 percent of those born elsewhere.
The calculation must also take into account that many in the state have some college or an associate’s degree from a community college. The equation is not only about four-year degrees, said Bob Ingram, former executive with GlaxoSmithKline.
“Our future is knowledge-based workers,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that they all come out of a four-year university.”
Peter Hans, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, pointed out that too many students choose the wrong path or drop out of college altogether. He suggested that UNC campuses publish more data majors and earnings of graduates so that students can make well-informed decisions.
“We all realize that higher education is more than the pursuit of job credentials,” he said. “Education is crucial to our culture and our democracy, not just our economy. But it isn’t an either-or choice. We can and should do both.”
via UNC group looks at employers’ needs – News – NewsObserver.com.