By Alana Melanson | Sentinel and Enterprise | October 10, 2012
Thanks to agreements signed Tuesday morning, students interested in earning advanced manufacturing degrees will easily be able to transfer their credits between local community colleges and Fitchburg State University.
A bevy of state and local government and education officials crowded into FSU’s Mazzaferro Center on Tuesday to celebrate the landmark collaboration, which will allow a more seamless transfer of credits between Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner, Quinsigmond Community College in Worcester and FSU, as students and manufacturing-industry employees seek to further their education and their careers.
The collaboration also involves the state Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which identifies and implements growth opportunities for small and medium-size manufacturers through advanced manufacturing technologies and training, among other means.
According to Eric Nakajima, assistant secretary for innovation policy for the state Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development, the partnership also offers a pathway between work-training programs that don’t offer credit to degree programs.
Normally, those who want to earn degrees often have to “shop around” at different institutions to determine what programs they offer and if they will be useful in the long run, he said, and sometimes credits are lost when students transfer between schools as their career paths become clearer.
With these agreements, Nakajima said, credits will be easily transferred to assist those students in their pursuits and to create a more competitive industry.
Ted Bauer, manager of workforce development programs for MassMEP, said a changing manufacturing landscape has led companies to “refocus and reinvest” in advanced technologies to improve their productivity. That transition has had a direct impact on the workforce, and even entry-level jobs in the field are profoundly different than they were 15 to 20 years ago.
“We have moved from repetitive, task-oriented jobs to knowledge-based jobs,” Bauer said. “This not only raised the bar for those looking to enter the manufacturing labor force, but it also created a major training challenge for those incumbents in the existing workforce.”
“Part of the purpose of education is to prepare young people for employment, citizenship and to be lifelong learners,” state Education Secretary Paul Reville said. “If we’re going to prepare them to thrive in jobs for the future, we need real-time, up-to-date information on what those jobs require in the way of skills and knowledge.”
By partnering educational institutions with employers, the latter can give the former advice on what jobs need to be filled, and initiatives can be made to help prepare students to thrive in those fields, Reville said. That, he added, will ensure not only a prosperous future for individuals, but also for the state as a whole.
He and Nakajima referred to a recent report by Northeastern University economics professor Barry Bluestone that reveals that up to 100,000 manufacturing jobs will become available through retirements in an aging workforce.
Also, Nakajima said, the report shows that 70 percent of manufacturers expect to increase hiring over the next five years, and 65 percent expect to increase investment in their plant and expand production.
Manufacturing will grow where there is a skilled workforce, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said, so “partnerships like these are critical to economic growth and prosperity.”
Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Joanne Goldstein agreed. Fostering a dialogue and partnerships between the businesses that are looking for trained workers and the educators that can produce them is important, she said, but it is also necessary to involve those in workforce development who can identify the employees suitable for those jobs and to ensure that they have living wages with benefits.
Goldstein said her office also has some training funds available for companies through the state-funded $5 million Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund and the Workforce Training Fund, an employer-funded grant program that disburses about $21 million annually to businesses.