Rethinking Workforce Development in Massachusetts

By Dennis Pierce

By leveraging data as well as partnerships, Middlesex Community College is responding to the needs of area employers and rethinking workforce development.

The launch of a new cybersecurity degree program this year at Middlesex Community College (MCC), in Massachusetts, is the latest example of how the college has adapted in response to industry trends.

Having been the first major factory city in the United States, Lowell is considered the “Cradle of the American Industrial Revolution.” Today, its factories have given way to the technology companies and biotech firms that have branched out to the Boston suburbs.

By listening to the needs of these employers, MCC has been innovating at a rapid pace — which has led to significant growth in enrollment in its academic and job training programs. More importantly, this innovation has benefitted employers and the public.

“We’re not just putting courses in a catalog and saying, ‘Hey, I hope you come.’ We are actively and aggressively finding out what employers need and then developing programs to meet those needs,” says Judy Burke, dean of corporate and community education and training.

A history of workforce development

MCC has been heavily focused on workforce development for more than 30 years, building industry partnerships that help campus leaders understand the needs of employers. Industry representatives sit on the advisory boards for every academic program, and Burke’s department works with companies to design noncredit courses that fill key gaps in employees’ skills.

“Everything we do, both on the credit side and the noncredit side, is for the benefit of the general public and helping them advance their skills,” she says. In the past five years, MCC has developed 18 new noncredit programs, 11 new degree programs and six new credit certificates in response to industry needs.

“We also offer on-site training to employers — anything from English as a second language and adult basic education to high-tech computer training,” she says.

 Partnering with industry

In the past few years, MCC has adopted creative new strategies to stay abreast of industry trends, including the formation of a Workforce Development Council and the use of “help wanted” analytics.

The Workforce Development Council consists of academic deans, representatives from state Workforce Investment Boards and career centers, and members of Burke’s staff. “We sit around the table every few months and discuss, ‘How can we work together as a team to advance our region?’” Burke says. “I think it’s unique, but it’s really important work.”

Through a U.S. Department of Labor grant, MCC leaders also have access to a commercial analytics tool that provides insight into where the heaviest concentration of job vacancies are — and what skills or competencies are needed for these positions.

“We’re using this information to see where we can expand our IT offerings,” says Kathleen Sweeney, dean of STEM and health programs. This initiative led to the formation of MCC’s new cybersecurity degree program, which focuses on developing secure software that performs only its intended functions.

An entrepreneurial spirit underlies all of the college’s efforts. When campus leaders learned that a new state law allows dental hygienists to administer anesthesia, the administrators realized that dental hygienists in the field didn’t have that skill because they’d never had the training. In response, a plan to fill this need was developed. Since then, “we’ve trained hundreds and hundreds of dental hygienists in how to deliver the anesthesia,” Burke says.

As a result of the college’s efforts, STEM enrollment has risen 31 percent in the past five years, enrollment in biotech courses is up 87 percent since 2005, and MCC is planning to build a new biotechnology building. Revenue from noncredit courses has increased 42 percent since 2008, and the college has established new programs in advanced manufacturing and several other areas.

“We like to say that we’ll never say no; we always say maybe,” Burke says. “If we can’t fulfill our obligation to an employer, we’ll find someone — whether it’s a consultant or another educational institution — to make sure that employer is satisfied and gets what they need.”

How is your college partnering with area industry? Tell us in the Comments.

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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