Three information technology-focused webinars that the project offered with San Jacinto College in fall 2020 were the impetus, according to Dr. Sarah Janes, associate vice chancellor of Continuing and Professional Development at San Jacinto College.
Representatives of the nine community colleges in the Texas Gulf Coast Consortium of Community Colleges and employers from the region that includes Houston and Galveston attended the webinars that focused on digital literacy, data analytics, and the general digital processes that technicians use across industry sectors.
“We found we needed to do a more specific drill down,” Janes said of consensus among the nine community colleges’ representatives that meet monthly. During a Special Interest Group meeting convened by Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work Janes explained that the educators agreed they needed to find out more about what employers in the region need technicians to know and how the community colleges could meet those needs.
So in January 2021, teams of industry personnel and college faculty embarked on detailed inquiries with four to five companies in each of six sectors: process technology; aerospace and aviation; biotechnology; construction services and management; maritime services; and manufacturing.
Information technology (IT) quickly emerged as an area of need among all employers. “IT is so strong in each one of those industries that it is really the common thread. IT and IT training is very important to this region,” Janes said.
At the end of six weeks the teams had reports for each sector that included matrices of employer expectations for technicians.
Janes said the consortium has had success engaging with industry because it uses a dual-level structure for interacting with employers and has a systematic process for documenting and responding to their advice.
Industry input is gathered from C-Suite executives through council meetings that the college chancellor holds. Action on council recommendations and more advice is provided by the industry representatives who participate on advisory committees.
Janes said industry people generally stay engaged at both councils and advisory committees because the educators listen to their suggestions, document them, and respond in writing to explain whether the college followed their advice or why it did not.
Greg Mitchell said that when he was Senior Technician Programs Manger at Aggreko he was aware of San Jacinto’s responsiveness and sought a partnership with the college to develop the SelecTech Program. The program brings 25 top technical students from across the country each year to San Jacinto for Aggreko-funded lessons in electrical controls, power generation, preventive maintenance, and refrigeration and compressed air mechanics.
During the program’s development Aggreko trainers met with the San Jacinto College instructors. The result is a 42-hour technical certificate that is more rigorous and of shorter duration than what the company previously had from another source.
“It’s been amazing how they’ve been able to take our suggestions, what we need, and help with curriculum, what we needed in the soft skills, and they turned it right around and delivered it instantly to us,” he said, adding, “It’s exactly what we needed.”
Mitchell was among the industry people who reached out to employers for the study conducted this past winter. He said he was happy to make calls and encouraged those he talked with to become involved as industry advisors to the college.
Janes said the value for employers is this: “The community colleges in the area want to give you the quality workforce you that you need, so we need to hear from you. What are the skills that you expect our completers to have to be able to be hired and employed in your particular industry/company? When we present it that way to them, it’s a no brainer.”
The colleges are now developing instructional cards for instructors and students that incorporate regional industry scenarios to teach the digital skills and data analytics that employers want technicians to know.
The cards are being designed for use in existing courses in various disciplines. They will provide instructional guidance, and direct people to additional materials.
Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work is developing instructional cards for educators and students on the cross-disciplinary knowledge and skills that subject matter experts, who how have advised the project, consider essential for STEM technicians to understand in the near future.
The cards are available for free at https://www.preparingtechnicians.org