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Tuesday Talk: Job Training vs. Flexible Education

February 04, 2014 By John Van Hecke, Publisher

Schooling’s long-term goal is to produce a flexible, adaptable and skilled workforce. A strong public K-12 education is the first step but everyone agrees that workforce preparation includes additional, post-high school education.

As market conditions accelerate and rapidly evolve, businesses are increasingly looking to publicly-funded higher education institutions, like MNSCU, to assume greater, specific workforce training responsibilities. Businesses want colleges to train future workers to be job-ready even as jobs change.

Today between 8 and 9:30, Matt Filner, a Metro State professor, along with recent higher education graduates will join us for a discussion around the right balance of specific workforce development and a broad, flexible higher education. 

Is it the public’s job to train workers for specific jobs in specific businesses?

What’s the right balance that improves Minnesota’s productivity while growing jobs that support stable families and communities?

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.

29 Comments:

  • Claire O'Connor says:

    February 4, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Public education is for educating citizens.  It is not for job training.  Business and their top executives are paying less and less in taxes and expecting more and more from tax payers to increase their share of the benefits. 
    I say, if they want the tax payer to train their workers they should pay for it - either increasing their share of the taxes to fund education or do the job skills training themselves

    • Matt Filner says:

      February 4, 2014 at 9:04 am

      I agree that public education should be focused on educating citizens.  But there’s nothing wrong with having reading, writing, critical thinking, effective communicating, as important skills that are goals of all higher education institutions.  In fact, businesses tell us repeatedly that the most important skills they want include these “higher order thinking” skills.  This is the kind of “training” that the public should be investing in—rather than a narrow “job skills” program.

  • Matt Filner says:

    February 4, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Good morning.  I’m happy to participate in this important discussion.  There is no question that one of the top goals of higher education is helping our students find great jobs doing the kind of work they are well-prepared to do.  This is a public responsibility that should be significantly funded with public dollars.  However, shifting more higher education resources into corporate job training programs is not the right path.

  • Joe says:

    February 4, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Matt, thanks for joining us. Tell us a little about some of the life-long skills you try to impart in your students that will be valuable no matter what career field they choose?

    • Matt Filner says:

      February 4, 2014 at 9:06 am

      In survey after survey, employers tell us that the most important skills they want employees to have are writing, reading and critical thinking skills.  These are life-long, transferrable skills that are taught in courses throughout a higher education curriculum.  These skills are not part of specific job training programs, however.  There’s no question that specific job skills are needed for every job—the question is where and when employees should be expected to acquire these skills.

      • Rachel says:

        February 4, 2014 at 9:22 am

        From Claire, via email:

        Public education is for preparing citizens (and potential citizens) to be able to engage in decision making and a guarantee that our democracy will endure.  It is not for jobs.  There are probably other effective strategies for job training but first and foremost, public education is for democracy.  Employers may say they want critical thinking skills but I don’t think they define the term the same way I do.

        • Lonni Skrentner says:

          February 4, 2014 at 9:27 am

          Claire and Rachel, 

          Historically (my major and teaching career), the definition of education kept expanding.  At first it was to be able to read and write (for the Bible and religion mostly), then as immigration increased in the 1840s, it became important for education to “create citizens” and reading became important even for factory work in order to follow directions.  After WWI, it became important for students to be able to do more math and higher level reading, in order to work in an office and that became the school’s job too.  College was a luxury.  As college or some type of post-secondary education becomes a necessity, we are arguing about what it should accomplish.

  • Lonni Skrentner says:

    February 4, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I believe - notice I say believe because I can’t prove it - that education is for the individual.  The problem I see with specific education for a job is that our job world is changing so fast.  Is there any truth to that old saying that a liberal arts education is often more valuable than a specific education because it can be applied in so many settings?

    • Matt Filner says:

      February 4, 2014 at 9:14 am

      There is a great value in a liberal arts education—the skills and life-long learning acquired are indispensable.  I don’t believe in a one-size fits all model, however.  Some students simply don’t want to major in the liberal arts fields. But even for students who want to major in a more job-oriented major, there are still essential skills that students can only get from liberal arts fields.  Currently, we require students to complete “generals” courses which are meant to provide those basic skills.  But the model of more job training programs within higher education threatens that broad education.

      • Lonni Skrentner says:

        February 4, 2014 at 9:18 am

        I agree, Matt.  I think we need to deepen general education requirements rather than cut them.  Although it seems ethereal, I wonder whether all students should take a couple of philosophy courses.  When you look at the K-12 IB curriculum it is rooted in philosophy and has been very successful.

        • Matthew Filner says:

          February 4, 2014 at 9:27 am

          Well, philosophy is one of many fields that would be excellent preparation.  I teach political philosophy in a political science department.  There are dozens of valuable fields that teach students to think—a skill needed in every field.

  • Joe says:

    February 4, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I want to be careful we’re not discounting the importance of technical skills in this discussion. Some young men and women are going into careers where welding, carpentry and other hands on training is important. These are fairly specific tasks. If there’s a technical educator following the discussion, please weigh in on how we train in these fields without providing an unfair training subsidy to a local business.

    • Matthew Filner says:

      February 4, 2014 at 9:21 am

      Yes, these are essential programs that teach extremely valuable skills.  The question is whether the welder, for example, should only receive such training and nothing more.  Unfortunately, the welder who never receives the broader, transferable “higher order” thinking skills is likely to have difficulty growing in his/her field of expertise.  To grow our middle class and our state economy, we need a class of people doing these jobs, but we also need these people to have the opportunity to start their own business and to grow.  To do that effectively requires broader skills.

    • Lonni Skrentner says:

      February 4, 2014 at 9:22 am

      Joe - are you speaking of a four year engineering degree or an associate degree from a community college?  In my mind, community college is one of two things - preparation for transfer to a four year institution while saving money - or preparation for a particular job, in which case we can’t see it as a subsidy to business but as helping a citizen get a job.  But, that raises another question.  How much general education should be required in a community college when the student is preparing for a technical career that may disappear within their lifetime?

      • Joe says:

        February 4, 2014 at 9:32 am

        I’m thinking the two year tech route. But the way your response is phrased brings up another lesson students need to learn early: once you graduate, your learning isn’t over. We must teach students they need to constantly diversify their skills in the rapidly changing tech economy. Waiting until you get laid-off or the factory moves is the worse time to learn a new skill. But we must also work to ensure there are jobs, especially in rural Minnesota, they can transition into. Medical facilities and K-12 schools only need so many workers, and starting a farm has its own obstacles; we must diversify rural economies past these few cornerstone rural careers.

        • Matthew Filner says:

          February 4, 2014 at 9:34 am

          Your point about diverse and flexible skills is vital here—that’s why we need to instill life-long learning skills in our students from the start.  It’s precisely this kind of flexibility that is being lost in the push for “workforce development.”

        • Lonni Skrentner says:

          February 4, 2014 at 9:36 am

          Joe - I’m not sure who you are, but you’ve hit the nail on the head.  It is no secret where I worked or served on a school board - Edina, so I’ll speak specifically.  Since early in the 1980s, Edina’s mission statement has spoken of creating life long learners for a global changing society.  K-12 needs to personalize learning; although it may sound silly learning can be fun and challenging learning can be fun.  We need to turn students on to education rather than turn them off.

  • Lonni Skrentner says:

    February 4, 2014 at 9:16 am

    It looks like so far, we are all “on the same page”.  As I hear businesses, or their lobbyists like the Chamber of Commerce, complain that higher ed graduates are not prepared for their work force, I keep wondering whether what they want is for public institutions to shoulder their responsibilities of worker mentoring?

    • Joe says:

      February 4, 2014 at 9:23 am

      There is value in businesses partnering with local community colleges, especially in rural areas. Manufacturers go to those areas because they can get access to a lot of production/warehousing space much cheaper than in core area. But if it’s tough to find workers in the area with the sills they need, that hampers rural economic development. What’s the harm in the local college investing in some fairly job-specific classes, as long as they’re balanced with broader work skills. Frankly, that’s more of a value than a giant property tax giveaway.

      • Lonni Skrentner says:

        February 4, 2014 at 9:31 am

        I thoroughly agree, Joe about partnerships.  So two questions.  Do we have any evidence that these greater MN programs are balancing programs with some good general education?  What do the businesses bring to the partnership besides a demand for workers and perhaps a promise to hire good graduates?

        • Matthew Filner says:

          February 4, 2014 at 9:37 am

          A fact point: all students who complete an associate’s degree within MNSCU must complete the “GELS” requirements—these are the general education requirements.  That includes writing, math, science, global awareness and six other areas of study.  It’s considered a basic education.  Students who don’t complete an AA degree are not required to complete their generals.

      • Matthew Filner says:

        February 4, 2014 at 9:32 am

        There are two things at play here: 1. the businesses want to outsource their own job training programs.  If they are willing to pay for the investment, I see no problem in the state providing the physical space.  But too many businesses want to public to pick up the tab for these programs—which is, in effect, a tax giveaway.  2. the business also have a simple solution to the so-called “job-skills mismatch”: they can raise the wages.  As middle class wages have stagnated over the past decades, it has done enormous damage to the middle class. Employers need to raise their wages, which will provide all the incentive needed for students to want to prepare for that job—- or to get people to move to where the jobs are.  While we might not like what’s going on in North Dakota, the reason the oil industry has attracted so many workers there is because they are offering high wages.  It’s a simple economic principle—raise the price of labor (the wage) to attract a supply of workers.

  • John Van Hecke says:

    February 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

    How does MN meet the challenge of programs and jobs being separated by hundreds of miles? I’m thinking of Southwest MN State’s Culinology program. Apart from work at Marshall’s Schwan’s plant, most food research, manufacturing and packaging is in the Twin Cities or elsewhere in Minnesota.

  • Kyle says:

    February 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

    A little background is that I started in high school by attending Normandale CC. Lots of general education and liberal arts classes, but nothing that opened up directly to a career.

    I then moved on to have a successful career after attending a private trade school, but this was exactly what I needed for my job field in IT. Their curriculum, and education model was excellent. It was industry and career oriented. Unfortunately, that was all that was excellent about the school.

    To this discussion at topic - I don’t think it is the public’s duty to train en mass for all industry specific skills. It is extremely difficult to adjust a wide variety of trade programs in the public sector to what is available in an ever changing regional economy.

    However, we do need some core trade programs available publicly. I’m still paying the financial costs for the private for-profit education. There shouldn’t be any reason that core industry specific trade programs can’t be implemented in MN. If the trade programs were available, I would have gone a different route - and still ended up in the same career path.

    • Lonni Skrentner says:

      February 4, 2014 at 9:56 am

      Kyle has raised an important issue - maybe one for another full discussion.  Is it fair for any educational institution to be set up for profit rather than as a non-profit?  When we consider the rapidly rising tuition even at our public institutions and the rising student debt upon graduation, this becomes critical.  According to some things I’ve read these for profit institutions, many of which are on line, recruit students and collect their student loan money.  I think the completion rate on many of those degrees is very low.

      • Kyle says:

        February 4, 2014 at 10:10 am

        I think the not/for-profit private/public school thing is a very important topic; but at hand, the big thing I was trying to push is that trade competencies in education need to be there.

        Weather it be mechanical, electrical, IT, nursing, or any number of fields. And, yes, companies will take advantage of having a publicly funded source of trained professionals. I’m not going to start up a company, or expand an office to a region that does not have a sustainable commodity of workers. The balance then becomes which programs to sustain in public education verses which business are available in our economy.

        Also, it is easy to point the finger at Monsanto to pick up the bill for providing such an education; but you can’t prevent the expansion of an amazing trade by pointing out that something as evil as Monsanto is going to take advantage of you. There are always going to be sharks that take advantage of the system—

  • Rachel says:

    February 4, 2014 at 9:56 am

    From Rob, on Twitter:

    https://twitter.com/jsheeran/status/430704610190192641

  • Julia Moroles says:

    February 4, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I am early in my process of studying this subject, however one common trend that I have found so far in the issue of better preparing recent college grads for the work force is that a lot of students become lost after they graduate because they aren’t informed on their opportunities that they have. One huge benefit that would create a change in the struggle of finding an actual career after college would be informing students about the options they have at an earlier age. The beginning of junior year in high school is when students should be connecting with colleges and learning about all of the opportunities they have in order to better prepare for the work force; this will make the transition more feasible and attainable for the future college graduates.

    After I graduated college I was able to find opportunities related to the degrees that I have because I searched for things on my own and discussed the opportunities with other people who have the same degrees as me. Colleges need to make their opportunities more evident and accessible; I also think that having the employers themselves reaching out to the students would be more beneficial as well.

  • Lonni Skrentner says:

    February 4, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Matt,

    You were the focus of this, and I know you are a bright guy.  If you were in charge, how would you solve this conundrum?