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  • Op Ed


    Barbara Kamm, President & CEO, Tech CU

    Investment in Community Colleges Strengthens the STEM Workforce and Supports a Healthy Tech Economy

    Read a version of this Op Ed published in the San Jose Silicon Valley Business Journal.

    There is no question that STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) jobs are critical to a healthy, innovation-based economy. Many of us tend to assume that STEM careers require a bachelor’s degree or higher — especially in areas such as engineering and material science. A recent study by the Brookings Institute, however, shows that approximately 50 percent of all STEM jobs in the U.S. do not require a four-year degree. This means that many of our STEM workers — in such industries as manufacturing, healthcare, transportation and construction — are receiving their primary education and training at community colleges. The question remains, why aren’t we encouraging more investment in these valuable institutions?

    STEM workers with less than a four-year degree play a much more significant role in the economy than many realize — especially in critical tech hubs like the Bay Area. Examples of these positions include precision machinists and computer system analysts, who help to prototype tech products and support business networks. In addition, registered nurses and healthcare technicians are the backbone to our hospitals and clinics — working in ever-more technical diagnostic and treatment areas. And, electricians, plumbers, pipe fitters and others are essential to the construction industry. All of these workers play a direct role in the invention, creation, and maintenance of technologies that drive economic growth.

    Investment in community colleges that educate and train for STEM jobs is essential to the growth and strength of our country’s workforce. Programs such as President Obama’s proposed $8 billion Community College to Career Fund have the ability to provide community colleges with the resources they need to become community career centers — places where people learn crucial skills that local businesses are looking for. This not only helps to ensure that employers have the skilled workforce they need, but also that workers gain industry-recognized credentials to build strong careers.

    Over the years, Technology Credit Union (Tech CU) has dedicated considerable resources towards promoting STEM education. Towards this end, I was recently appointed to the Chancellor’s Business and Industry Advisory Council for the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District — a cause near and dear to my heart. I am a huge supporter of community colleges — one of my sons attended Foothill — as I firmly believe that there are many ways to receive a top-notch education and prepare oneself for the workforce.

    As a business community, we can support our local community colleges in the following ways:

    • Develop partnerships (and build networks) between community colleges and businesses.
    • Encourage our policy makers to give community colleges the resources they need to become true community career centers.
    • Provide workers with the latest certified training by offering apprenticeships and internships for low-income community college students.
    • Encourage students to explore alternative STEM careers — potentially shortening and reducing the cost of the path from college to career.

    As high school graduates weigh their options for the fall, I would urge them to consider the possibility of having a productive and rewarding career in STEM fields without receiving a four-year college degree. Foothill-DeAnza’s outstanding Manufacturing and CNC Technology program is just one example of a community college offering that can provide the vocational training needed to land a well-paying job. And, it is these types of programs that will help drive our economy forward.