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Jack Friedlander: Knowledge and Skills — New Currency for 21st Century

SBCC teams up with local business leaders as part of its efforts to ensure students are properly trained and educated for today's job market

At a time when the federal and state governments are failing all segments of education in terms of their lack of adequate funding, SBCC will not fail its students. The consequences of such an action to our students, community, state and nation are too severe. Education is more important now than ever.

Dr. Jack Friedlander
Dr. Jack Friedlander

New Currency

In today’s competitive global economy, knowledge and skills have become the new currency, according to national economists. Governments cannot print this new currency. It is up to each individual to decide how much of this currency he or she wants to print. SBCC is in the business of helping students obtain this currency of skills and knowledge.

The only sustainable way to increase the standard of living and the economic prosperity for a greater percentage of people is to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, if California were to award 2 percent more graduates with associate degrees and 1 percent more graduates with bachelor degrees, its economy would grow by $20 billion, tax revenues would increase by $1.2 billion a year and 174,000 new jobs would be created. A highly trained workforce is critical to economic recovery.

To the degree we can produce a highly skilled workforce, our community and state can attract and keep businesses thriving. The jobs generated would promote employment opportunities and enable people to become taxpayers as opposed to tax receivers. This, in turn, would generate revenue for education, health and human services, and other important public needs.

New Workforce Covers All Age Groups

What we are finding in higher education is that the 18- to 20-year-old age groups are not the only students who need competencies and skills training. The recession has driven people of every age group — in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s and 70s — to seek additional training. Many of these individuals already have bachelor’s degrees but need additional skills in order to find work in the current market. And they do not have the luxury of going back to college for two more years to earn another degree.

SBCC is looking into the possibility of offering “stackable certificates,” which would be a series of short-term training certification programs that would complement the degrees and life experiences that these students already possess. These “value added” skills would increase their opportunities in the job market.

Input from the Business Community

So what new knowledge and skills do graduates need to advance in well-paying jobs? What are employers looking for? What makes up the new currency?

To address these questions, I invited the membership of our four local-area chambers of commerce — Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria and Hispanic — to attend one of two breakfast meetings in March. The purpose was for the business leaders to give the college administration and faculty feedback on the skills they need in their current employees and the skills they want in their future workforces.

The general consensus of the business leaders is that too many prospective and current employees lack the core competencies and workforce preparation skills needed in today’s workplace.

Recommendations included:

» Better command of basic English and communications skills.

» Better computer skills.

» More exposure to business and entrepreneurial skills as traditional employers are cutting staff and the number of independent contractors is increasing.

» Better training in creative and critical thinking.

» Better training in problem-solving skills.

» Better training in customer service, team building, cultural diversity and leadership skills.

» Ability to apply social media skills to the work setting.

» Ability and flexibility to perform multiple jobs.

» Ability and desire to take ownership and provide leadership for projects that are assigned or self-initiated.

» Knowledge of business and social etiquette (interviewing, email vs. phone call, business meetings or lunches, going the extra mile).

» More bilingual training classes.

» Provide students with work experience or internship opportunities.

» Documented evidence of the competencies students have acquired in the career technology education courses and certificate programs they completed.

» Better promotion among businesses of current SBCC programs to enhance job skills such as the Professional Development Center and Career Center.

Where Do We Go from Here?

SBCC will take the feedback it received under consideration as the college re-examines its career technical education and general education curriculum to ensure that that they include the core competencies and workforce preparation skills that students need to enter and advance in current and projected jobs. Many of the topics mentioned need to be integrated throughout both curriculums and will take some time to cultivate.

I am grateful to the business participants who attended and their taking the time to share their thoughts with us. The competitive global job market of the 21st century has raised the bar for prospective employees and that average is no longer good enough anymore — that the new acceptable standard has to be “the best.”

In partnership with the business community, SBCC will do all that it can to provide students with the education they need to increase their currency of knowledge and skills so they can compete effectively for well-paying jobs in the competitive 21st century global marketplace and to be well-informed participants in the civic affairs of society.

— Dr. Jack Friedlander is SBCC’s acting superintendent/president.

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