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Preparing for the Future of Work and Learning: the Role of Community Colleges

Our Aviation Technology program leads the way in training the next generation of technicians.

Who is more skilled – the brain surgeon or the automotive technician?

I posed this question at the beginning of my recent presentation to the Arizona House of Representatives’ Education Committee. My topic was “Preparing for the Future of Work and Learning: The Role of Community Colleges.” The query actually was meant to illuminate the point of my talk: Transformative change is taking place in every occupation, and will profoundly affect all workers, from those who wield a scalpel to those who turn a wrench.

Behind the disruption are the dizzying advances being made in mobile technology, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things. It would not be a stretch to think of these forces as “superpowers” in that, in the words of Pat Gelsinger, Chief Executive Officer of VMWare, a global firm specializing in digital infrastructure, they are on a par with “major nations, shaping the course of history.” Taken together, these forces amount to a Fourth Industrial Revolution that is “fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human,” according to Klaus Schwab, Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

Needed: new skills

These forces will have a profound impact on work. The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 percent of today’s first graders will work in jobs that do not currently exist. And the timeframe for these seismic shifts are a little more than a decade away. In some cases, the shifts have already occurred. By 2030, 1 in 3 U.S. workers – including the surgeon and the mechanic — will need to learn new skills and find work in new occupations, according to a 2017 McKinsey Global Insights forecast.

What does this mean for Pima Community College, a large comprehensive higher education institution in Tucson, Arizona, about 65 miles from the Mexico border? Pima and its fellow Arizona community colleges, uniquely positioned to provide the human capital that helps determine the economic success of our region, must possess the nimbleness to train Arizonans to thrive in the brutally competitive global marketplace of the 21st century. There is no time to waste: The Brookings Institution calculates that 44 percent of job tasks in Tucson and Phoenix already are susceptible to automation.

Deepening relationships with industry

“Shift Happens 2,” a February 2019 report by INNOVATE + EDUCATE, a national workforce development nonprofit, stresses the importance of learners pursing a myriad of credentials. “Today, it is no longer a pathway from primary to secondary to postsecondary education leading to a job. That staid formula is no longer working . . . . Today, a learner’s most pressing need is a greater connect between education and employment outcomes.” Pima recognizes the need to shift teaching and learning to emphasize applied learning, lifelong learning and earn-to-learn models. The success of these endeavors depends on strong partnerships with business.

For example, through our Applied Technology Academy, we are training engineers from Caterpillar, the global heavy-equipment manufacturer, which recently opened a facility in Tucson. Caterpillar has identified a gap in its engineers’ skill set: they lack real-world, factory-floor fabrication experience.  Pima’s remedy is to offer six-week lab-lecture classes, Welding for Non-Welders and Machining for Non-Machinists, that lets the engineers get their hands dirty. So far, 48 CAT employees have completed the classes, and another cohort is scheduled. We also are developing a new class, Prototyping using Non-metal Materials.

Meeting the needs of industry is also the goal of our collaboration with TuSimple, an autonomous vehicle manufacturer with a production facility in Tucson.  With autonomous trucks delivering groceries in Phoenix, it’s clear that the future of truck transportation will mean drivers will need to learn a special set of new skills. We are working with TuSimple to build an Autonomous Vehicle Driver and Operations Specialist certificate that will build competencies in multiple areas – from logistics to information technology to automated industrial technology – that will be needed for the drivers of the future to interact with their autonomous vehicles.

Centers of Excellence

A Center of Excellence (CoE) is an academic hub, a collection of  programs strategically aligned to pursue excellence in a particular field of study. Pima is planning CoEs in six disciplines; the first to be brought online will be one focused on Applied Technology. We are investing more than $56 million, with additional funding to come from a capital campaign, to expand existing programs and start new ones across three areas: Transportation Technology (e.g., Automotive Technology, Diesel Technology, Autonomous and Connected Vehicles),  Manufacturing/Advanced Manufacturing (Machine Technology, Welding/Fabrication, Automated Industrial Technology, Process Control Optics, Quality and Design), and Infrastructure (Construction, Utility Technology, Mining and HVAC).  Our CoEs are founded on meeting the workforce needs of today while forecasting and responding to changes beyond the horizon.

Aviation Technology

Everyone benefits when education and private industry collaborate. In Arizona, we are fortunate to have leaders who recognize the role government can play in propelling the state’s economy. Gov. Doug Ducey has included in his 2019 budget proposal a $20 million one-time allocation to expand and improve our Aviation Technology Center (ATC). If approved by the State Legislature, the funding will potentially double, to 250, the students the ATC can serve. The extra capacity is necessary, as the program currently has a waitlist stretching more than a year.

Why Pima’s Aviation Tech Center? Our ATC has a national reputation built on rigor – 2,000 hours of training, more than 100 exams, nearly 300 hands-on projects. We are one of a handful of schools offering sought-after advanced structural repair and modification, and commercial jet transport and Avionics training, thanks to the 727 on site.

The state’s investment in Pima would solidify Arizona’s pre-eminent position in aerospace manufacturing while helping fill an education gap that could threaten our lofty standing. Arizona ranks No. 1 in overall aerospace manufacturing, according to the global consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), but is only 20th in the U.S. in the education subcomponent of the rankings. PwC notes that our northern neighbor Utah has engaged seven aerospace companies in the expansion of a program that provides high school seniors with training for an aerospace manufacturing certification. It is imperative Arizona does not fall behind in providing the “educated, technology-savvy and diversified workforce” needed to maintain competitiveness in this sector.

The bottom line, according to an analysis by Sun Corridor Inc., a regional economic development entity: The expansion would produce 75 new Aviation Tech graduates a year in jobs with an average salary of $52,000. The total economic impact from 2019-2023 from the $20 million investment:  $225.6 million – a better than 11-to-1 return. In aviation, as in other economic sectors, one need not be a brain surgeon to recognize the wisdom of preparing our workforce for the future.

Visit by member of U.S. Congress

Five guys

Last week our Desert Vista Campus was the site of a tour by U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva. Congressman Grijalva met with representatives of our Student Services Center, including our Program Advisors. These professionals, experts in specific fields of study such as Applied Technology, described to Rep. Grijalva their roles in getting students to successfully complete their respective academic programs.

The tour also included a visit to our new Integrated Learning Center, and to Desert Vista’s TRiO office, where Rep. Grijalva received an update about the umbrella of programs at campuses throughout PCC  that are dedicated to helping first-generation, low-income students achieve their academic goals. We concluded at the Culinary Arts kitchens and Teacher Education offices.

Later this week, Gov. Doug Ducey and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild will visit our Downtown Campus to make an important announcement and to be on hand when we announce a new collaboration with Caterpillar’s Tucson side. It’s heartening to see that elected officials and the business community view Pima Community College as a key player in furthering the educational aspirations of all students, including students of modest means, and in workforce development in Southern Arizona.

Reorganizing Athletics

With Edgar

Dean of Athletics, Fitness and Wellness Edgar Soto and I met the media and community members June 14 to discuss the College’s decision to cease its football program after the 2018 season.

Edgar had announced his recommendation at the PCC Governing Board’s June 13 meeting. I approved the recommendation, as did the College’s Executive Leadership Team.

Edgar recommended moving from a $2.6 million Athletics budget to $1.9 million, which would require ending the football program and at least two other sports. The men’s and women’s golf and tennis teams are currently being evaluated.

At the media conference, I placed our decision into context. The College is in the second year of a three-year initiative to reduce expenses by a total of $15 million. Athletics is not immune from the cuts resulting from the initiative, which is necessitated by declines in enrollment and state laws limiting our expenditures.

When the football program was created in 2000, it was to be fiscally self-supporting and would not require College funding from property taxes and student tuition. Initially, the program received some outside support, but soon the College needed to direct student fees to cover the costs of the program. The revenue from these fees is dependent on enrollment. The revenue is unable to completely subsidize the program, as our enrollment, while stabilizing, is far from its level in the early 2000s, or its Great Recession peak.

I pointed out that increasing enrollment will continue to be a challenge for PCC, as it is for community colleges across the U.S. A “birth dearth” — a decline in the 18-24 demographic that traditionally comprises a large part of community college enrollment – will be an ongoing obstacle at PCC and nationwide. The some 4,000 higher education institutions in the U.S. will be increasing their efforts to enroll students, and thanks to the growth of online education, we will be in competition for students with institutions both near us and hundreds of miles away.

Edgar noted that he considered other factors in reaching a decision, including competition opportunities and conference viability, Title IX implications and other liabilities. PCC will create scholarships for football, golf and tennis athletes who might have come to the PCC through sports. As Edgar put it, these students’ pathway to college might be academics instead of athletics, but our goal will be the same – to see them through to a college degree.

That goal resonates with me personally. Like hundreds of thousands of boys, I grew up with football and dreamed of playing on Sunday. I played in high school, and if not for an injury, would have taken the field in college. Thankfully, I received a grant and was able to attend college.

It hurts deeply to alter the dreams of the more than 100 young men, and the dedicated coaches and support staff, who have invested so much in PCC football. To the student-athletes affected by our decision, the College pledges to do all it can so they can reap the live-changing benefits inherent in a college education.

Living our values

The higher education landscape today is littered with colleges that failed to understand the trends, failed to innovate and took their focus off their core values.

Late last month I challenged our administrators to reflect on the College’s values, which begin with “We value our students, employees and the community members we serve by making decisions that address the needs of those populations.”  Our values also cover integrity, excellence, communication, collaboration and open admissions and access.

I then asked them if their values aligned with the College. I also asked, “What  have you done to fulfill the College’s mission?”

If Pima Community College is going to reach its potential to be a premier community college, each of us must be committed to our organizational values and to fulfilling our mission.

The challenge, of course, is that today’s world is much different than when  Pima opened its doors nearly 50 years ago. Today’s technology-driven, global economy  demands innovation at an unprecedented pace. Further, our students must be prepared for a world that  moves seamlessly across borders, thanks largely to technology, and a workforce that integrates ideas and cultures from every perspective.

To put students first at Pima Community College means exposing them to cultural opportunities and providing a global understanding. Even graduates who will build their lives and careers in Pima County must be prepared for a workforce where the company owner is from China or Germany or elsewhere; where the expectation is to be multi-lingual or culturally competent; where the workplace enjoys a rich diversity.

Our students return from study abroad opportunities to China, Ireland and other places they might have never thought possible as changed individuals with a new confidence. Pima students study alongside our international students, break bread with them, learn from them. Everyone benefits.

Putting students first at Pima means innovating to ensure they have access to the best services, the latest teaching methods and the newest technology.  STEM fields are changing rapidly and Pima must adapt to ensure that our students are prepared for those great jobs. If our programs aren’t innovating, they are dying.

Recently we were told that everything about college should be easy, except for the learning.

Putting students first at Pima also means innovating our student experience, providing welcoming, encouraging and effective interactions.

Finally, putting students first means that faculty, staff and administrators can’t wait for opportunity before they act. They can’t wait to be asked.  They can’t wait for crisis to compel change.  They can’t hope difficult times will simply pass by.  Each of us owes it to our students to live our values, to watch and understand the trends, to innovate to meet student needs.

The day is gone when good enough was enough.  “Good enough” is not in Pima’s lexicon.  I shared the story of James Dyson and how a local sawmill inspired his line of vacuum cleaners. For James Dyson, good enough was not an option and he found inspiration for something better, perhaps even the best vacuum cleaner.

I challenge Pima supporters and employees to find your inspiration.

Get excited when you think that Pima Community College can be a premier community college, with record-setting completion rates, multiple nationally recognized programs and standard-setting customer service.  We are certainly paving the way for that with guided pathways, Centers of Excellence, iBEST and other initiatives. We will continue that very good work and keep building on it.

Think about how you would answer “what have I done to fulfill the College’s mission? How I have lived the College values?”   If you don’t like your answer, know that you can aspire to more.

Graduation Season

Treece

With Jessica Treece

For the College, May is a month to showcase and celebrate our students’ success. Students, faculty, staff, administrators and the Governing Board have worked hard in 2017-2018, and the result of their efforts during the academic year deserves recognition.

I have had the privilege of participating in several ceremonies. At Multicultural Convocation, our annual celebration of diversity, equity and inclusion, I shared my story of coming to America from my birthplace in South Korea. I stressed the things we have in common, so that we can build bridges and bring back our humanity.

That same night, I joined more than 1,000 Tucsonans for the Fashionarte 2018 fashion event that showcased the amazing work of the students in our Fashion Design program. The event, held at the Fox Theatre Tucson with the support of several community sponsors, is an example of how public-private partnerships can benefit the College and the community.

I also had the opportunity to attend a ceremony honoring more than 75 graduates of our Nursing program. These women and men have completed a rigorous program that is deservedly recognized for the quality of their graduates.

On Friday, I broke bread with about 25 of the 295 student-veterans who will graduate from PCC this year. Those who attended heard the powerful story of Jessica Treece, who has fought back from severe injuries suffered in a mortar attack when serving in the Army in Iraq. Jessica will graduate from PCC with a certificate in Emergency Medical Technology and an Associate degree in Fire Science.

I congratulate all our graduates and thank the PCC teams that made each event memorable, and look forward to our Graduation May 17 and our High School Equivalency Graduation May 31.

21st-century education

I had the privilege of observing Desert Vista Campus Mathematics Faculty Darla Aguilar’s Math for Elementary School Teachers (MAT 147) last week. It was enlightening, as it is a harbinger of the next generation of education, one that combines new technology with evolving teaching styles.

The class was held in a room in Desert Vista’s new Center for Integrated Learning, our beautiful new 21st-century education space. Groups of a half-dozen students gathered at five tables; on the wall above each table was a monitor where the students could collect and display research data on a spreadsheet.

Their research question involved Barbie-type dolls, rubber bands and bungee jumping. How many rubber bands does it take for a Barbie to bungee-jump a distance without hitting her head on the ground?

The assignment enables the students to think about math with an elementary-school mindset, while honing skills involving manipulatives that will be critical when they enter the classroom. It also emphasizes teamwork and communication as the groups decide the best approach to solving the problem. (Some students captured their Barbies’ rapid descent on slow-motion smartphone video.)

Also noteworthy is that Darla has replaced the traditional lecture with an interactive, student-centered approach in which the instructor serves as a facilitator and coach.

Darla’s class is a prime example of how new technology and innovative pedagogy add up to a great learning experience for our students.