United States Congresswoman Lori Trahan held a roundtable at Mount Wachusett Community College yesterday where education and how it can increase the skills students need in the modern workforce was discussed with area business, educational and legislative leaders.
The roundtable held on Thursday, March 21 at Mount Wachusett Community College’s Gardner campus featured Congresswoman Lori Trahan, MWCC President James Vander Hooven, Fitchburg State University President Richard Lapidus, Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, State Representative Jon Zlotnik and an array of local business representatives. The Congresswoman said she hoped to use forums like these to better understand local concerns and ideas as she begins her work on the House Committee on Education and Labor. Getting a better understanding of successful local educational partnerships and programs will help with creating a nation-wide plan of action, she said.
“We have to change the mindset around what an education is in this country. We have to change the mindset around the American dream just being tethered to a four-year college education and a college experience. Because buying that doesn’t actually buy you a great paying job where you can start a family,” said Congresswoman Trahan who explained practical lanes of education are important in providing the skills to get a job. “When you’ve got economic opportunity, you’ve got a lot more paths open to you. And that’s the outcome we should be thinking about.”
MWCC President Vander Hooven related a need to examine the evaluation process for institutes of higher education. Changes to that system could encourage colleges to put more resources behind programs that get employment results for students.
“How are we putting (students) into jobs that are available here in North Central Massachusetts? To me that is a big indicator of our success,” said MWCC President James Vander Hooven.
The discussion covered a number of topics. Among them were adequate mathematics skills as students transition into the workforce, ongoing education for area workers, the need for financial literacy in high school and college, and opportunities for businesses to partner with higher educational institutions. While a great deal of the discussion focused on skills associated with certificate programs and basic educational skills such as adequate mathematical proficiency, the importance of soft skills such as being on time for work was brought up a number of times.
President Lapidus highlighted how a liberal arts degree can prepare students with many of the skills that were brought up throughout the discussion while preparing them to think outside of the box and grow into leadership roles within companies.
“When I go out and talk to employers… they’re talking generally about soft skills. Can these people work in groups? Can they interact? Can they take disparate information and draw important conclusions?” said Lapidus who explained that it’s these skills that help graduates grow into leaders. “There’s a shortage of leaders… how many people can think outside of the box and be motivational enough to lead others towards a described vision?”
As the conversation came to a close, Congresswoman Trahan thanked everyone for their participation and input, saying this meeting would be the first of many in the region. Mount Wachusett Community College officials are pleased the Congresswoman will be returning soon to speak directly to students at the college’s upcoming Commencement on Thursday, May 23, 2019 where she will be the keynote speaker.