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Panel Makes Case for Aligning Higher Education with Industry

Sep 29, 2015 | Harvard Crimson

By William C. Belfiore, Contributing Writer

Note: This forum was moderated by Council President Chris Anderson and featured Council members Anthony Benoit, of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology and Susan Fallon of Monster Government Solutions who co-chairs the Council’s Talent Development Policy Team.

A panel of local thought leaders representing the private sector, K-12 education, and post-secondary schooling discussed best practices for aligning education with industry needs at a panel Monday night.

At the event, organized by the Harvard Business School Association of Boston, the panelists advocated for building a more experiential curriculum into the education system in order to better reconcile education with changing workforce demands, especially in the tech space.

In order for the United States to maintain its place as some sort of world industry leader, education needs to prepare students better for the needs of industry and the workforce, said Anthony G. Benoit, president of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, a private nonprofit college specializing in two-year vocational degrees.

Robert B. Schwartz, professor of practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, agreed with Benoit that vocational degree programs, which Benoit termed “vo-tech,” are of growing importance.  Vo-tech, as defined by Benoit, encompasses jobs like lab technician, and other “middle skill jobs,” which make up nearly 30 percent of the state labor force.

Despite having one of the most educated workforces in the country, Massachusetts is facing a hiring shortage, said Schwartz. In particular, many available jobs require technical knowledge, an oft-neglected subset of what he called the “high skill, high wage economy.”

“The recent interest and investment in vo-tech high schools is a positive trend for a couple reasons,” Benoit said.  “One, it is aligning high school education with the workplace.  That’s a great thing. It is also reminding people about the value of a lot of the work that people do. ”

Benoit traced the evolution of popular opinion surrounding vocational education, as it shifted from second-rate training to a sought-after qualification.

“We went through a period of time, really a whole generation of people who were told you should not work with your hands,” Benoit said.  “Work which uses the hands has been devalued.”

Susan K. Fallon, vice president of global strategy and business development at the online employment site Monster.com, and David Harris completed the panel and reiterated the importance of vocational and technical education for meeting workforce needs.

Fallon identified practical field experience as an invaluable part of landing a job, especially in saturated hiring environments like Massachusetts or California.  She highlighted the value of supplementing an advanced degree with internships, to build professional skills.

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