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Cisco partners with school districts, colleges to close technical skills gap

Cisco partners with school districts, colleges to close technical skills gap
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Dive Brief:

  • Cisco recently announced a $13 million investment in 44 networking academies in Missouri to help close the skills gap and train the next generation workforce.
  • The company is partnering with high schools, two-year colleges and even some four-year colleges to offer curriculum and lab equipment so students can have hands-on experience with industry equipment. Students also have the opportunity to earn a professional certification before they graduate to demonstrate even more value to the workplace. 
  • Cisco’s U.S. public sector senior vice president, Larry Payne, said in a recent conversation with Education Dive that the company saw opportunity was lacking “for students who couldn’t pursue that four-year engineering or computer science degree … to enter into the tech industry.” Payne said the company recognized it as a void it could fill to help train future workers. “If we’re going to introduce people to our industry, we can’t just expect everyone to come out of a four-year college with a computer science degree,” he said.

Dive Insight:

Cisco’s network academies aren’t new — and they’re certainly not the first company to operate such an initiative. But the expansion of the company’s efforts further underscores the idea that higher education, as a sector, is not serving the needs of industry.

The Obama administration put unprecedented emphasis on the idea of a college degree as a universal right, but the country has a shortage of skilled workers — those who would have traditionally been enrolled in career and technical education programs, often at community colleges. Now, the Trump administration is taking a step back and, along with Congress, emphasizing apprenticeship and other job training programs. 

There has to be a solution to the current crisis. For one, traditional four-year institutions must do a better job of aligning their curricula with industry and, as an undergraduate education model, valuing the experiences of faculty members who are currently working in their industries to promote better synergy between the sectors. Companies like Pearson, Amazon and Cisco are getting into the education delivery market, believing they can do it better than the institutions. Payne said, “It’s really interesting that we’re the company that the internet runs on and we’re doing a lot in the education market, and we’re doing a lot to [marry those together] and really change people’s lives.” This is a transformation that some have doubted higher ed’s ability to lead.

Four-year institutions can also look to two-year institutions for ways to develop certification and continuing education programs that are not necessarily so rigidly ordered against the traditional four-year degree pathway. Allowing students to earn credentials along the pathway to the bachelor’s degree — and ensuring those credentials meet industry needs and standards — is of particular importance to the increasing number of students who may have to take semesters off to work or who are maintaining full-time jobs alongside their studies. 

But there also must be a de-stigmatization of the work of community colleges. These institutions, long considered the bastardized stepchildren of higher education, have more experience with the new majority of students, and they continue to fill an important void for students who do not desire or can’t obtain a bachelor’s degree. And as the push for apprenticeship and workforce training programs ramps up, these institutions will continue to play an important part in readying students for the jobs of tomorrow.

However, in the words of Education Dive’s 2017 President of the Year, California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, it is important that the conversation include voices from all walks of life to avoid a situation in which men with degrees are sitting around pontificating over who needs one — a scenario that would see overwhelming numbers of poor students and students of color steered away from degree tracks and into a worker class.

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