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Filling the Gap

I hope that everyone had a restful and enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend. The staff here at the Chamber is thankful for the ongoing support we receive from each of you throughout the course of the year.
I recently attended an excellent program at Universal Technical Institute (UTI). Located in Norwood, UTI is a nationwide provider of technical education training for students seeking careers as professional automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians. The “New England Skills Gap Expo: Solutions Through STEM” featured remarks by former U.S. Secretary of Education, Rod Paige and Kim McWaters, UTI’s CEO. There was also a panel discussion, including thought leaders from business, education and public policy groups.

The focus of the program was that our nation’s youth are still not entering into science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) fields of study and career paths in numbers needed to fill the current and anticipated jobs that are required to maintain our country’s competitiveness. Additionally, other countries are producing significantly more STEM trained students than the U.S., many of whom are studying here and then returning to their native lands.

It was also noted that STEM does not require a bachelor’s degree or higher to be successful. UTI itself is a good example of post-high school education that doesn’t lead, to a degree, but does lead to a successful job with technical skills and a good wage. A major point of emphasis throughout the program was that education must work closely with business in order to understand the needs of the workplace and also to expose students to the myriad STEM-related careers that exist and inspire students to explore them.

That’s where the good news comes in locally. Despite the dire situation nationally, Massachusetts continues to be a leader in education overall and in STEM, specifically. While there is much to be done for sure, our state has made a commitment to improvement through the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council Executive Committee. The Commonwealth Corporation and Boston Federal Reserve recently completed a Labor Market Analysis for the state by region, which identified where skills gaps in STEM and elsewhere exist. By working together, these entities along with Mass Insight’s Math and Science Initiative, Regional Employment Boards and others can make a difference.
Furthermore, in attendance at UTI were Katherine Touafek of the School to Careers Partnership and chair of the Chamber’s Education and Business Committee, Jim Hayden, Superintendent of the Norwood Public Schools and Alec Wyeth, Assistant Superintendent. I mention this because we all work together already through our Education and Business Committee on precisely the issues mentioned above (and much more!). The need for dialogue, partnership and cooperation between schools and business has never been greater, and I’m proud to say that it’s happening right here in our communities.

The Chamber’s Mission and Vision Statements specifically state our commitment to education, a commitment we take very seriously. Although we have fun with that too, if you were at our Spelling Bee, you’ll know what I mean.
In any event, I congratulate UTI for hosting an important and informative discussion of the skills gap in STEM.

The work, however, is just beginning and our Chamber, through our Education and Business Committee is playing a small but important role.

If you care about these issues and would like to lend your support to the Committee, please let me know. Business must play a role, and we encourage your help.