Last Spring, I attended the “Seamless Web of Education Conference” at the Hilton in my hometown, Portland, Oregon. The attendees were those who, like me, toil in our nation’s fields of higher education. At first, I didn’t immediately associate “seamless” with education, and instead mentally rambled down a road related to nylon stockings, WWII and the invention of pantyhose, but was careful to nod in an appropriate academic fashion at its mention.
Despite my cognitive snag, the Seamless Web of Education is fundamentally a system of integration between pre-kindergarten and post-secondary education. The fusion between community colleges and workforce development is perhaps where this seamless alchemy is most evident, especially when considered against the backdrop of record unemployment and an economy still trying to find its bottom.
Seamless, yet stitched into the course of a single day are multiple connections with a college trained workforce, no matter if we’re driving to work, visiting the dentist, stopping for chai and a chat at our favorite coffee shop, walking the dog while secretly coveting a neighbor’s rhododendron, or more typically when a pipe leaks, or the roof rattles, or the lights flutter, and we need a plumber, a roofer and/or an electrician. Moreover, the intersections where need meets service creates the opportunity for increased employment and industry such as delivered lunches, new construction, or custom technologies.
In the New Economy community colleges have been termed the “first responders” because their mission is to prepare students to thrive in an ever-changing world. After all, enriching the lives of students by providing a quality education and training is their raison d’être. Community colleges offer degree and certificate programs that range from Automotive Technology to Funerary Services, livelihoods that seamlessly support a typical day in any community. With new industries burgeoning such as solar energy, green jobs and wind farms, the need for a skilled workforce is even more imminently felt. As reported in New America Media, by Mara A. Cohen-Marks, “Occupations that require only a post-secondary vocational award or associate degree will increase 20 percent over the next decade. Approximately 45 percent of all openings will be for such positions.”
Now as in earlier times in our nation’s history, the economic recovery of our communities lay on the shoulders of a skilled workforce. President Franklin Roosevelt knew this when he pushed the New Deal through Congress and created new agencies, legislation and job training programs. Roosevelt knew, despite his privileged upbringing, when there’s no food in the cupboard, priorities get real clear. Ask any survivor of the Great Depression, and they will tell you what gave them hope, what provided release from the desperate inertia, what filled the bellies of their children, and resurrected the promise of a better future was gainful employment.
As the first responders in the New Economy, community colleges stand ready to equip local businesses with a skilled workforce that can literally deliver the goods and strengthen the seamless web that binds us all.