Employer Expectations

Businesses want workers who can have an immediate impact.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rich Wagner

CREDIT Dunwoody College of TechnologyAlmost half way into the second decade of a new century, it’s become clear that employer expectations for a skilled workforce continue to grow. Technology continues to change, and it is skilled workers that give businesses the competitive edge needed to succeed. Businesses want workers who can have an immediate impact. This means from the first day on the job employees are expected to have technical expertise and job-ready knowledge that is supplemented with critical thinking and problem solving skills.

As we talk about technology and education, I hope that we include in that the technologies that are part of a technical education.

The demand for skilled workers is fueling a renaissance in technical education. At Dunwoody College of Technology we’ve seen the demand for skilled workers for a long time. Today, over 98% of our graduates find employment in the field in which they were educated. Many are hired before they graduate. Dunwoody’s story is similar to other technical colleges, great placement rates for graduates and not enough graduates to meet industry demand.

For decades, parents and their high school students have made decisions on post-secondary education with a negative stigma toward technical education and technical colleges. Often, parents and students do not understand the extraordinary career potential of technical college graduates.

Today, technical college programs are teaching technologies that are complex and difficult. Additive manufacturing, the computing power in an automobile, building information modeling and cloud computing are but a few of the technologies utilized in industries served by technical colleges. Add to that the need to troubleshoot and today’s technical college student is provided an education that develops industry ready skills supplemented with critical thinking, problem solving, math, science, team building, social sciences and communication skills. All of which are framed to provide access to immediate jobs and great careers. All of which are taught hands-on with real work applications.

The United States has an eclectic higher education landscape with a vast array of institutions, all of which are important to our citizens, our communities and our nations. A crucial, yet often unacknowledged piece of the higher education landscape is served by technical colleges and career technical education programs. Today’s reality is that there are too many skilled jobs unfilled and not enough people in the pipeline. Companies that can’t hire can’t grow. And the skills gap has only begun.

As more Baby Boomers retire, technologies continue to advance and the workforce becomes more global, technical college graduates will continue to be in high demand. We can no longer overlook this important, I would argue vital, part of our higher education landscape.

As we talk about technology and education, I hope that we include in that the technologies that are part of a technical education – the cool things that aren’t always obvious to parents and high school students. We also need to tell the story of graduates of technical colleges so people realize the great careers with access to the middle class that technical colleges provide. We can work together to erase the negative stigma that is often attached to technical education and technical careers. That stigma is out-of-date and becomes even more so with every technological innovation that is developed across a range of industries.

In response to changes in industry, technical education is requiring more of its students and becoming even more high-tech. It’s a viable option for all students looking for a college education. It should automatically be part of the conversation, rather than an afterthought.

Rich Wagner, Ph.D., has served as the president of Dunwoody College of Technology since July 2009. He joined Dunwoody back in 1996 as an electrical instructor. He holds a doctorate degree in educational policy and administration, a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor of science degree. He’s also is the vice president of the Board of Trustees of the American Technical Education Association, a member of the Minnesota Governor’s Workforce Development Council and a member of Rotary Club #9.

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