Getting the right message out

Thursday January 24, 2013

Joyce Judy

As I listened to Gov. Peter Shumlin give his second inaugural address last week, I couldn't help but feel hopeful for the future of Vermont. I applaud the governor for focusing on education in his speech and making the improvement of the states educational system a priority for his administration this year. Strengthening educational systems has paid dividends elsewhere, and there's no reason to believe the same won't hold true in Vermont.

The governor listed some of our challenges, and I could as well, but that would not be helpful right now. What we need to do at this point is act on those ideas that will drive better outcomes for Vermont students.

After considering the governor's proposals and reflecting on the recent evolution of Vermont's job market and economic future, I am confident that we can meet the challenges of the 21st century through a stronger partnership among the state, the business community, and our educational institutions.

We already have robust mechanisms in place to meet many of these challenges, but we've fallen short on getting the message out to those Vermonters who most need to take advantage of the education and training programs that will match the needs of employers. Therefore I propose that state, business, and educational leaders embark on an intensive collaborative effort to inform Vermonters of the jobs that are here and of the opportunities for training that are available to help them become viable candidates for those jobs.

We are a small state. We cannot afford to see Vermonters living at less than their full potential. In our adult workforce, CCV estimates that 73,000 Vermonters have completed high school, but have not completed college. The state, businesses and colleges must present options to this cohort. This is a group that must be informed that the path to a brighter future leads through education beyond high school.

Governor Shumlin stated that "we must embrace change in the way we both view and deliver education. The rapid change that is required of us is not optional; it will define our success or deliver our failure."

I agree wholeheartedly; if we truly wish to define our success, we must reach out to those tens of thousands of Vermonters who have yet to earn some level of post-secondary education and make sure they know that financial and academic options exist for them that will translate into higher wages, more options for future growth, and a better standard of living.

In recent months, we've all learned of the proposed development that will bring good-paying, new jobs to the Northeast Kingdom. We've all heard of this because Bill Stenger, Ari Quiros and the state have done great work communicating this. The natural next step is to spread the word that Vermont's academic institutions are well suited to prepare the next-generation Northeast Kingdom workforce. Fromhospitality and tourism management programs to technology degrees and certificates to programs focused on sustainability, our state and private colleges are ready. But we need to do a better job of informing Vermonters that their personal and professional development can happen here, and it can happen today.

These types of programs aren't limited to higher education. Last week, just a few days before the Governor's inauguration, I watched 15 Williamstown Middle High School students give their capstone presentations for a new career and college readiness course taught cooperatively by high school teachers and Community College of Vermont faculty. These high school students are the first in the state to complete a program that awards them both the National Career Readiness Certificate and our Vermont Governor's Career Ready Certificate.

As an educator and the president of CCV, I can't express in words how proud I was to hear a number of these students comment that as a result of taking the course, they feel more confident and more prepared to enter either college or the workforce. The Governor has called for more student-focused education, and in giving these students the opportunity to learn in a college environment and to explore the workplace, we've done just that. By all measures, this pilot program was a success, and it's the type of opportunity that will define our success if we let it and if we are open to others like it. If we, businesses, colleges, schools, communities and the state, get the message out about programs such as these, it will result in more of our high school students staying engaged and graduating ready to tackle the next chapter of their lives.

The governor mentioned Plasan Carbon Composites as an example of the types of businesses growing right here in the Green Mountain State. Plasan is modern manufacturing: clean, green and highly technical. With this type of manufacturing, there is little room for unskilled labor. CCV has worked closely with Plasan to create customized workforce development programs to ensure its workers have the skills they need to succeed. We know from programs such as these that we must promote the message to all Vermonters, the unemployed, the underemployed, or those looking to start or change careers, that Vermont is well equipped to teach, train, and prepare them for the jobs of the 21st century.

If we as a whole -- business, education, state -- work together, we can achieve Governor Shumlin's goal of supporting students from birth to cap and gown, and beyond. Vermont has great jobs. Vermont has strong institutions. Vermonters have opportunities, today. Now is the time for us to get this message out.

Joyce Judy is president of the Community College of Vermont.


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