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Formation of the IWNC: businesses united: to do their part to help solve the skills gap.

Businesses need an educated, prepared and adaptable workforce to remain relevant and competitive in an ever-changing global society. Strong education and industry partnerships serve as the glue to strengthen and prepare students for relevant and in-demand careers of the future.

Our nation has reached a pivotal moment in its economic history when an aging workforce and advancing technology are creating a shortage of skilled workers--or skills gap. This skills gap is expected to hit middle-skill jobs the hardest. According to a 2012 study from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, middle-skill jobs--those requiring education beyond high school but less than a four-year college degree--are projected to account for 45 percent of all job openings through 2014, and only approximately 25 percent of the available workforce will be qualified to fill these positions!

The founding members of the Industry Workforce Needs Council (IWNC) are already experiencing this skills gap in their businesses. Despite a historically high rate of unemployment, these businesses are having trouble finding qualified workers to fill their open postilions. With this current and future issue in mind, business leaders from a variety of industries throughout the country have come together to form the IWNC. The mission of the Council is simple: increase the population of skilled workers in the United States through better alignment between the educational system and the opportunities created by industry.

CTE: An Old Solution for a New Problem

Career and technical education (CTE) has long prepared youth and adults for wide-ranging careers. As technology and educational standards have changed, CTE continues to evolve to align with advanced technology, rigorous academics and postsecondary educational and career paths. CTE, creates a practical learning environment that puts academics to work in real-life scenarios and provides the very necessary employability and technical skills to create career-ready students.

Caterpillar, Siemens and Lockheed Martin--along with all the other founding members of the IWNC--hire individuals worldwide in almost every job category. Their focus varies widely. They need to fill manufacturing positions that range from assemblers, skilled laborers, welders, technicians and engineers to keep their operations flowing smoothly. They need business and general operations management and leadership to manage the day-to-day operations. They also need to define, secure and deliver the future through highly skilled product designers and futuristic engineers who can spec and build the unimaginable. When recruiting for new employees. Council members look to CTE programs to produce the technical know-how. STEM skills, critical thinking and problem solving, teamwork, creativity and personal accountability they need in their employees.

The IWNC sees CTE as the cornerstone to building a robust workforce pipeline, and its members see strengthening support for CTE programs as an essential part of achieving its mission. The Council endeavors to facilitate productive partnerships with business and industry and garner support for CTE among policymakers and the general public.

An Image Problem: Not Your Grandfather's Skilled Trades

One of the long-range objectives of the IWNC is to do its part to take on the mammoth task of helping redefine the image of CTE. For many on the outside, CTE suffers from a significant image problem. For example, manufacturing and skilled trade careers are seen as low-wage, dull, dirty careers requiring little or no training. On the inside, we know that CTE is an adaptive education for all students that provides hands-on experience, uses advanced technology and aligns with rigorous academics and postsecondary education. We know that skilled trades like manufacturing are fulfilling careers that provide opportunity and access to the middle class.

The IWNC aims to share that knowledge outside the CTE sphere to non-CTE educators and administrators; policymakers at the local, state and national levels; and the general public, especially parents. To get the word out, the Council has planned many speaking engagements at education, business and governmental meetings around the country. In addition, a national media campaign has been a topic of conversation, with a focus on sharing the message of the value of CTE. as well as garnering support from local industry to get more leaders engaged.

Business/Education Partnerships: A Natural Role for CTE

CTE and business have long had close ties: The origins of CTE include apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Today, however, a mere 6 percent of employers are partnering with educational institutions to fill knowledge gaps with new curricula. Many of the IWNC's members are in that minority of businesses engaged in education and see these partnerships as essential to ensure that education is viable and relevant to the workplace, local and national economies, and the employability of students. In order to achieve its mission, the IWNC aims to foster new and improved business/education partnerships to create better alignment between the needs of industry and the training provided by education. To do so, the IWNC will highlight successful business/education partnerships around the country. Siemens and Trane, two founding members of the IWNC, have exemplary partnership programs with the education systems in their areas.

German-based Siemens continues the tradition of apprenticeships in CTE through a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, North Carolina. To ensure a steady pipeline of skilled workers, Siemens joined Apprentice 2000, a partnership of businesses in the Charlotte area, to recruit its next generation of skilled workers. Selected students are offered a summer internship and then an apprenticeship. During the program, apprentices attend CPCC full-time with a full scholarship from Siemens, and work on site at Siemens with a mentor. When they have completed the program, students graduate with a degree in mechatronics and full-time employment at Siemens. The company estimates that the four-year program costs approximately $170,000 per student, but according to Siemens Technical Training Manager Pamela Howze, the company sees it as an investment in its workforce and the local community.

Siemens doesn't limit its involvement in the local education system to apprenticeships, however. In a partnership with other Charlotte businesses and CPCC, Siemens hosts an annual two-week workshop to give middle and high school math, science and CTE teachers the opportunity to see in action the math and science skills they teach. The program, STEMersion, connects teachers to local industry and introduces them to local businesses and resources that can help them develop curriculum and connect their students with apprenticeships, internships and other opportunities for workplace learning while they are still in high school. Demand for the program is so strong that this year the organizers intend to double the number of participants.

In Wisconsin, Gateway Technical College and Trane partnered to update the school's HYAG labs and curriculum to meet industry standards. Gateway Technical College, like many other technical schools, had out-of-date equipment, which was often donated by area businesses and residents when they upgraded their systems to more energy-efficient models. Gateway and Trane worked together to not only replace the equipment with modern, reliable and sustainable models, but also to develop an HVAC program that aligned with industry-recognized certifications to better prepare students for successful employment.

The IWNC plans to turn success stories like these into a series of "playbooks" to help guide business/education partnerships in other communities around the country. These partnerships help foster the creation of new curricula and ensure educators stay current with trends in the industry.

Certifications: Validating Career Readiness

Businesses want workers with job-specific skills who are ready to perform on day one. Many graduates, however, lack the real-world skills that industry needs. Graduates of CTE programs, however, are ready for careers. CTE programs provide instructional opportunities in alignment with industry-recognized credentials to ensure that students are coming out of their programs with relevant, applicable skills. IWNC founding member Certiport, a provider of certifications that help students demonstrate their skills, says that certifications continue to be a sought-after focus for CTE programs in order to validate the career readiness of their students.

The Index: Measuring Alignment and Engagement

In order for education to create the workforce a region needs, businesses need to be actively engaged in the development of their local and regional educational programs. Educators, in order to provide their students with the education and skills necessary for employment, need to match their curricula to industry requirements.

Different regions, industries and educational systems all require different programs and different levels and types of engagement to ensure that the alignment of education to industry opportunities exists and provides the best possible outcomes for our children and students. It is with this in mind that the IWNC has put in motion work to create an alignment index. This index will measure a number of relevant factors within engagement, skill development and projected demand to showcase the connections and gaps within a region, as well as define strategies to create a more robust system. The analysis generated will be used to identify areas for potential improvement and investment to focus efforts and energy.

CTE and the IWNC

This skills gap has wide-reaching effects on American businesses and the economy. Persistent job vacancies hamper the growth of American businesses. Eventually, businesses may choose to outsource these positions to other countries if the American workforce cannot fill the gap. The IWNC sees CTE as pivotal to creating a workforce for today and tomorrow, and it will do its part to advocate for stronger CTE programs and serve as a resource for CTE educators and their students. The IWNC asks CTE educators to help it achieve its mission by sharing successes and failures and working with their local industries to better align education and business. The partnership of education and industry can only succeed with the full engagement of both parties. Get involved and learn more at

The author will be presenting this session, as well as "Making Your FACS Program Count," at VISION 2013. For more information, visit

Timm Boettcher is chair of the IWNC and president of Realityworks, Inc. He is passionate about CTE and workforce development and works to build a better future for students, communities and businesses. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Business and Industry; Industry Workforce Needs Council
Author:Boettcher, Timm
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2013
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