By Dr. Karen A. Stout, President, Montgomery County Community College (MCCC), Dr. David Brookstein, Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics, MCCC, and Suzanne Holloman, Dean of Workforce Development & Continuing Education, MCCC
Until its decline in the 1970s, manufacturing was the cornerstone on which Pennsylvania’s economy was built. Last week, Governor Corbett’s Manufacturing Advisory Council outlined recommendations by which the Commonwealth can once again emerge as a leader in the manufacturing industry.
Education and training will play a key role in bringing this “manufacturing renaissance” to fruition. According to the council’s report, 82 percent of manufacturers nationwide perceive a serious to moderate skill gap in their employees, and 74 percent cite this gap as negatively impacting theircompany’s ability to expand. The gap is further amplified by a perceived lack of confidence in the long-term stability of U.S. manufacturing employment.
Manufacturing CEOs, nationally and regionally, agree that employee talent – especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) – drives innovation and competition. Yet, the gap between students enrolled in STEM programs and the national and regional need for STEM graduates continues to grow, partially as a result of increasing higher education costs and student debt.
Therefore, by providing quality and affordable education and training, community colleges – like Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) – are the key to building the STEM pipeline. Recently, MCCC has coalesced all of its STEM-related courses and programs into a brand new STEM Division – an effort that positions us to adapt and respond to the evolving economic and industry demands of the region.
For example, MCCC began training students in biotechnology manufacturing in response to increased development of biologic protein-based drugs by regional pharmaceutical companies. Likewise, the College offers a comprehensive series of nano-manufacturing courses in response to growing industries, such as the manufacturing of advanced materials and medical devices.
Importantly, MCCC’s STEM Division works in close partnership with the College’s Center for Workforce Development (CWD). This fall, the CWD is introducing programs to train displaced workers for high demand occupations in advanced manufacturing, green energy and health care technology. The programs are made possible by a U.S. Department of Labor Trade Adjustment AssistanceCommunity College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant, in collaboration with the Commonwealth’s 13 other community colleges.
These new programs will expand the College's work with manufacturers – especially those in the Greater Upper Perkiomen Valley, where MCCC spearheads thePerkUp Workforce Development Consortium. This innovative partnership brings together leaders from education, business and industry with the shared vision of developing a 21st century workforce that encompasses both the training of incumbent workers and the building of a skilled manufacturing pipeline.
These few examples illustrate how MCCC, through STEM education, is shaping the future of manufacturing in our region. However, in order for a statewide manufacturing renaissance to occur, all sectors – public, education, business – must embrace and advance of value of STEM education and training for today’s students and tomorrow’s employees.