FLATE’s Executive Director Analyzes Retooling of the American Workforce

Over the past two years, the Community College system has been a focus of discussion as the nation looks for ways to climb out of the extended downturn in the economy. Although companies are slowly starting to hire and rebuild their production teams, the new workforce is lean to the bone, and will never look the way it did prior to this recession.

In most cases, this means increasing the use of technology, either information or automation technologies to reduce the number of employees, the redundancies and increase efficiency. Adding technology generally implies the need for multi-skilled and more highly educated workers who can operate and troubleshoot integrated hardware and software systems. It’s expected that 63%-76% of the new and replacement jobs in 2018 will require some post-secondary training or education to produce this highly skilled worker, and the need for college educated workers will outpace the supply by 300,000 annually(Center on Education and the Workforce, www.cew.georgetown.edu/jobs2018)

How does this information and prediction affect what is happening in Florida? In January 2011, several Florida news outlets dug into the details of Associate of Science degrees and their relative earning potential. A snapshot of salary estimates provided by the state to the St. Petersburg Times that month highlighted the situation, however, a complete analysis has to include the fact that many of Florida’s state and community college students (and, therefore graduates) are older than the graduates from state universities, and often have some significant work experience as well.

Historically it has been demonstrated that over a working life, a university bachelor’s degree often generated more opportunities for upward career mobility and shifts into managerial positions and pathways (which also increases the long-term salary growth). Thus the question is whether the new workforce paradigm with its emphasis on a worker with secured multiple skills will shift this management pathway toward the A.S. graduates with their focused skill development education. One hint that this may be the case is the current starting salary profiles provided by the St. Petersburg Times, but you can read the numbers and interpret their significance yourselves:

Degrees from FL college Average & Corresponding Annual Starting Salary (of recent graduates)
  • Associate of Science $47,708
  • Community college certificate 38,109
  • Associate of Arts $31,836
  • Bachelor’s Degree (CC) $47,080
  • Bachelor’s degree (state university) $36,552
  • Bachelor’s degree (private university) $44,558 (from Florida employment data)
No matter how you speculate on the long-term impact, today there is a growing demand for highly skilled technical workers who have multiple and integrated skills to deal with the increased complexity of many industrial processes and operations. New technologies are being implemented in hundreds of facilities across the country, and a disproportionately large number of current technical workers are approaching retirement. To stave off the impact of these two facts, many industry sectors are engaging in diverse efforts to redefine their workers and recreate their workforce structure. Both endeavors involve the associate of science graduate and associate of science degree structure.

In Florida, this degree restructure activity includes shorter term technical credit certificates that when possible incorporate a nationally recognized industry certification. It also means developing an A.S. degree pathway that will allow the A.S. degree holder at an appropriate juncture in their career to enter ABET engineering programs in Florida’s State University System. Florida industry and therefore FLATE wants to wrap technical skills into an associate degree that provides a strong STEM education knowledge base to provide the new 21st century worker with this degree to move into engineering and/or management career pathways. We are working on both these industry requests so stay tuned for more details in future Focus issues.

In the meantime enjoy this issue of the FLATE FOCUS with articles about FLATE’s high-tech robotics camps. You can also read a spotlight article on EEI Manufacturing, a woman owned and operated business in Clearwater Florida, and make note of how an elementary school in Florida is giving their students a taste of STEM. Last, but not the least, a new, exciting, and thought-provoking sTEm puzzle awaits to challenge your senses.